New Watertown Police Chief Michael Lawn used to ride a mountain bike around town when he was a community police officer, and he has plans to bring the program back.
This is one of part of the effort by the Watertown Police Department to make better connections with residents, Lawn told the Town Council on Saturday during his budget hearing.
The mountain bike program is an effort to get police out of their patrol cars and interact with the public, said Lawn, who used to ride one himself in the 1990s.
“I was assigned to Coolidge Square and I used to park my bike next to Dunkin’ Donuts and people come up and talk to you,” Lawn said.
He examined a few bicycles and picked one that has an electric motor that can be used in case the officer has to get somewhere fast.
“You still have to pedal, it’s not like a moped,” Lawn said. “The Watertown Community Foundation purchased two for us.”
Lawn plans to have officers out and about at parks, business districts and where ever the public gathers. They will also be at public events, and may be ready to go for the Memorial Day Parade, Lawn said.
Another Community Policing effort is the Cops & Rec program. Last year the program kicked off with street hockey, dodgeball and two movie nights, which attracted more than 300 people.
This spring the Cops & Rec Middle School Basketball program will begin, and Lawn said you will see him out there.
“I am a former basketball player and official,” Lawn said. “I’ll be out there officiating on Tuesday nights.”
Being a police officer is still a dangerous job, Lawn stressed, and he said he worried about the safety of his officers.
“You see where police officers are getting shot, getting jumped,” Lawn said. “And it is not only in cities. It happened in Salem, in Methuen.”
To illustrate these concerns, the day after Lawn spoke these words Auburn Police Officer Ron Tarentino was shot and killed during a stop.
Lawn said Watertown Police go through training to deal with difficult situations. He plans to send officers through crisis intervention training being offered by the Somerville Police Department.
“Mental illness situations happen every day, and we have had some scary calls,” Lawn said. “Scary situations where people picked up knives.”
He added that Watertown officers are taught to deescalate situations.
They also have a simulator to train about when and when not to use their weapons in real-life-like situation.
“I went through it and I can’t believe how realistic it is,” Lawn said.
Lawn was asked about Watertown Police wearing body cameras to record what they are doing while on patrol. He said he does not support it right now.
While many say they cut down on the use of force by police officers, Lawn said Watertown has very few use of force complaints. There are other issues, he said, including the cost, it would have to be negotiated with the Police Union and public records.
“Boston is not for them, Methuen is starting a pilot program,” Lawn said. “Do we need them in Watertown? In my opinion, no. We will let others do the testing.”