By Chris Rotolo |
MIDDLETOWN –The first time Anne Scheidermann heard the hum of an ATV engine coming up behind her during a bike ride last spring on the Henry Hudson trail, she was startled. Motorized vehicles are not permitted on the paved trail.
But fear of being run off the path turned to relief when she saw it was a Middletown Township Police officer on a department all-terrain vehicle.
“I pulled to the side of the trail and had a nice chat with the officer,” said Scheidermann, a 57-year old resident of North Middletown who was pausing Saturday at McMahon Park for a water break. “I know the trail. I’ve traveled it for years. And I’m not sure I’ll ever let my guard down out here. But the police presence does make me feel safer.”
For some, personal safety has been questionable along the 12-mile northern section of the Henry Hudson Trail, a former railroad right-of-way that passes through forests, wetlands and fields, and sometimes along residential backyards.
Over the past four years there have been a few incidents that have wound up in the police blotter, like the arrest of a suspected drug dealer in Belford with 85 bags of heroin and the apprehension of suspected robbers who fled from the scene of the crime on bikes along the trail.
When Craig Weber was appointed chief of police in August 2014, one of his first stated objectives was to increase patrols on the trail.
Weber said the police department recognizes the unique recreation opportunity the trail provides to residents of Middletown and surrounding municipalities.
“We are constantly looking for ways to establish and increase our presence so as to ensure an enjoyable experience for all those who use the area,” Weber said in a statement to The Two River Times. “Since the trail is not readily accessible to patrol cars, the Middletown Township Police has deployed Class II Special Law Enforcement Officers using ATVs and bikes to patrol these areas.”
A Special Law Enforcement Officer (SLEO) is a part-time member of the police department who is authorized to exercise full powers and duties similar to those of a permanent, regularly appointed full-time officer.
The special officers patrol year round, more often in the warm weather months.
Keansburg resident Frank Woodson, 46, has noticed their presence this summer.
“With the police watching over the trail more, I think that’s put the biking community a little more at ease,” Woodson said Saturday, near McMahon Park. “But If you ride the trail long enough like I have, you’re bound to see questionable things, or at least things that look a little questionable.
“I wouldn’t say I feel scared to be out here – not anymore. Not with the police out here like they are. But I do try to stay aware of my surroundings out here.”
Weber hopes that as time goes on these patrols will help do away with the negative stigma the trail has acquired among some residents.
“It is our hope that the increased police presence will allow greater opportunity for the public to meet and converse with the members of our agency, as well improve service to those using the trail,” Weber said.
This article was first published in the August 23-30, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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