In Haiti, a country rebuilding after an earthquake shattered its already shaky economy, several communities are benefiting from a stronger police presence in the form of a bike brigade.
The Haitian National Police (HNP) officers on bikes – outfitted in shorts, helmet and a fluorescent vest for visibility – are improving street safety while building relationships with residents through the structured patrol of the community policing initiative.
"It's so important for the police and for the population to feel like the police are there for the community, to serve and protect the people," says Montreal Police Department Insp. Jean-Ernest Célestin, the co-ordinator of the project with the United Nations Police (UNPol). "The bikes make it possible."
The first bikes hit the pavement in the summer of 2013 in Croix-Des-Bouquets, a neighbourhood close to Port-au-Prince, followed by units in Pétionville, Delmas and, significantly, Cité Soleil, known for being one of the worst slums in the world.
And it will continue growing, says Célestin. He's preparing to launch the program in several cities across the country after securing another 80 bicycles from Montreal.
Each unit is made up of four to five officers who are carefully selected and receive a two-day technical training course through UNPol. Célestin says by keeping the unit small, they can easily adjust it when they know what works and what doesn't.
Right now it's a Canadian-led UNPol initiative, but in a few years the HNP will take ownership of it.
"Through the whole process, from the required management skills, the selection of the candidates, training to patrol, the HNP are always involved so they will be able to take over when the time comes," says Célestin.
Pleased with the program's success to date, the RCMP Deputy Commissioner for HNP Development, Serge Therriault, says the initiative provides a sense of pride to the National Police and projects a professional image.
"The brigade brought a proven concept of community policing to the HNP," says C/Supt. Therriault. "The bicycles are the vehicles to get into the communities and not just a means to go from call to call and move around the city."