AUGUSTA — Officers Brad Chase and Carly Wiggin hadn’t been on their bicycles for long Tuesday morning when news came that two men were fighting in downtown Augusta, on a corner of Bridge and Water streets.

Chase and Wiggin had left the police station recently and needed a couple minutes to pedal to the scene. By the time they arrived, several officers already had arrived and begun interviewing those involved. Though they were not investigating the incident, Chase and Wiggin stuck around and chatted with a number of the people present.

“Our response time is not as fast,” Chase said. “We were acting as backup, like scene security.”

Police defused the situation, and Chase and Wiggin pedaled their bikes down the waterfront.

A half hour later, they returned to Water Street for a different purpose: They entered the Vickery Cafe and chatted with members of the lunch crowd. They also took cellphone pictures of themselves — selfies — that the staff proceeded to post on the restaurant’s Facebook page.

“We LOVE our AUGUSTA POLICE DEPT!” the business wrote in the Facebook post.

Both Chase and Wiggin hold special roles in the Augusta Police Department. As the department’s community resource officer, Chase tries to engage the public through talks and programs. Wiggin, the department’s school resource officer, spends much of the year working in Augusta schools.

But beginning this month, they have been wearing different hats — or helmets, really. They have been patrolling downtown Augusta on bicycles and plan to do so for the rest of summer, an effort designed to improve public safety and make inroads with the community.

In the past, Deputy Chief Jared Mills said, Augusta officers have been encouraged to take the department’s bicycles out with them on patrol, but it has never been efficient for officers who are called to situations several miles away and need to get into their cruisers.

This is the first time the department has had a deep enough roster to allow it to put specialty officers such as Wiggin and Chase on full-time bicycle duty, Mills said.

That could allow them to detect some crimes that an officer in a police car wouldn’t, Mills said.

Chase said that the Kennebec River Rail Trail has been the site of some incidents that required a police response, such as the report of a man who kicked a woman’s puppy in 2015.

He also recalled making an arrest in the last couple weeks. He was on foot, and another officer was on a bicycle, and they noticed a man who had several outstanding arrest warrants walk out of the woods. They might not have noticed the man had they been in police cars, Chase said.

“Just by being here, I can’t say I prevented x number of crimes,” he said. “But I think it is a deterrent.”

However, the more important goal of the bicycle patrols is to give the public opportunities to interact with police in less tense or adversarial ways — such as posing for pictures with them in restaurants or cycling past them on the rail trail.

“I see Brad and Carly, and it’s their full-time job to be out there and have that positive community contact,” Mills said. “Brad really gets the credit for bringing this to us. Obviously, we supported him.”

Chase and Wiggin said they try to interact with all people coming through downtown, including those who might have been charged with crimes in the past and who do not hold the police in high regard.

“It changes the perception they have,” Wiggin said. As a school resource officer, she has met students who tell her flat-out, “I don’t like you,” but then developed a better relationship with her over time, she said.

Augusta isn’t the only municipality to try bicycle policing. This summer, the Waterville Police Department sent out officers on bike patrol as part of a program that’s been going on for about 16 years. The Winthrop Police Department is also considering the feasibility of having an officer monitor downtown on bicycle.

In Augusta, the officers are sticking mainly to downtown.

After receiving many complaints of drug dealing, petty crime and disorderly conduct from that part of town, the city expanded patrols there in 2014. That change has “significantly reduced the number of issues there,” Mills said. Several downtown business owners agreed. While not all of them have seen Chase and Wiggin on their patrols yet, those businesses supported the presence of officers in the area.

Levi “Sonny” Chavarie, owner of Sonny’s Museum and Rock Shop, said people used to ask for money frequently outside his store, which he thought was a nuisance. But since the police started patrolling Water Street on foot, the panhandlers have left, he said.

Colleen Tyler, owner of the Vickery Cafe, was supportive of both the bike patrols and the police presence in downtown Augusta, saying officers have been quick to respond when people trespassed in her restaurant.

“We love having them in here, and they love interacting with my customers,” she said of Chase and Wiggin. “We had four kids in here earlier, and they gave out stickers to them. I think it’s a really positive thing having them down here.”

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

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Twitter: @ceichacker