BELFAST, Maine — On a recent summer evening, the peace of the new Belfast Harbor Walk was shattered when an intoxicated woman began screaming and getting confrontational with people passing by.
Someone called a complaint to the Belfast Police Department, and the nearest officer was dispatched to the scene. He was not on foot, behind the wheel of a car or on an ordinary pedal bike; instead, he zipped off to stem the screams while riding the department’s new electric bicycle.
“He was able to get there quickly, efficiently and deal with the issue,” Chief Mike McFadden said Tuesday.
Skeptical officers initially were reluctant to embrace the electric bicycle, which the department purchased this spring for $3,000 after being directed to do so by the Belfast City Council. But it has been a boon to the patrol division, the chief said.
“There were some officers who didn’t see the benefit,” he said, adding that they came around quickly. “There’s basically one level street in all of Belfast. It’s a torturous Tour de France to get up from the waterfront. Now we have the ability to respond anywhere in the downtown Belfast area and have officers arrive and not be completely exhausted.”
The Easy Motion bike can be used for 10 hours after it’s charged, he said. Riders still pedal, but there is a mechanical assist to help them travel nearly 20 miles per hour. This allows officers patrol downtown, including the length of the popular harbor walk, without getting winded.
“If you have to climb Main Street hill, you’re going to be a little sapped,” McFadden said.
Councilor Mike Hurley said city officials perhaps considered saving more than stamina when they decided to buy a bike for the police department.
“Every time an officer is on an electric bike, it’s a lot cheaper than a car,” he said, adding that the bike saves fossil fuels, too. “And the speed and range of it is so much wider than a bicycle.”
Both Hurley and McFadden said they hadn’t heard of other police departments in the state buying electric bicycles for patrol officers. A Portland Police Department official said Tuesday they only use conventional bikes while pedaling the streets of Maine’s largest city.
In Belfast, officers said there is much to like about the fancy bicycle.
“You get to do things on this bicycle that you don’t get to do in a car,” Officer Jim Bergdoll said. “I get to talk to people. It’s a much more intimate way of meeting the public. And it’s great exercise. Sitting in a car can grow on you — in the wrong way.”
But the officer, who joked he requested a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, said there is a downside.
“The helmet,” he said. “Somebody’s got to invent a cool helmet.”