HARRISONBURG — In January, Rockingham County Sheriff Bryan Hutcheson and his staff tinkered with the idea of adding bicycle officers to the patrol unit.
The plan was to eventually use the bikes during large events, such as the Rockingham County Fair and lawn parties.
But as the sheriff watched the construction of Aspen Heights — the first off-campus student-housing complex to be built in the county — he saw an immediate need for bicycle patrols.
“It changed the timetable,” Hutcheson said. “We put it on the front burner.”
The sheriff’s office has purchased two bicycles to start.
The sheriff’s office used seized assets from drug investigations to pay for the bikes, which cost about $1,300 each.
The first patrols are scheduled to begin Saturday at Aspen Heights, located just outside Harrisonburg’s city limits off Port Republic Road.
The new 600-bed complex has been the site of several large parties — and accompanying complaints from neighbors — since students began moving last month. Police estimated that as many as 3,000 people showed up for a party the weekend before classes began at James Madison University on Aug. 26.
After neighbors in nearby subdivisions complained to JMU, the Rockingham County Board of Supervisors and the complex’s property managers established new policies, including limiting the number of guests a resident can have in the complex at one time.
The property also now has a gate.
Hutcheson said the layout of the complex makes it more conducive to bicycles than patrol cars.
“You can get around easier in more confined spaces,” said Hutcheson, adding that the roads in the complex are narrow and there are usually people walking around.
Having deputies patrolling the complex on bikes also should give them easy access to Rockingham Memorial Hospital, which is located about a mile from Aspen Heights, Hutcheson said.
Deputies also plan to use bicycles to patrol subdivisions elsewhere in the county, including Belmont Estates, Barrington and Lakeview.
Hutcheson cited several other advantages to using bicycles for patrols.
“You’re more approachable,” he said, adding that deputies will be talking to residents, which is easier to do as a bike rider.
The sheriff’s office, Hutcheson said, wants to foster a positive relationship with residents there and work together to reduce crime.
“You can have more communication,” he said.
Student-housing complexes are often targeted by criminals, especially during holiday breaks when most residents are away.
Hutcheson said bike patrols will increase a deputy’s awareness of possible criminal activity.
“You’re more in touch with your surroundings,” he said. “You can hear, you can see, you can smell what’s going on around you.”
Contact Pete DeLea at 574-6278 or email@example.com