GILFORD — Four or five times a week, Laconia Police Chief Matthew “Matt” Canfield is out on the WOW Trail — running it from end to end for recreation. Sometimes, Canfield is solo. Other times, he has his wife and children alongside him.
“I’m on the WOW Trail regularly, and I always feel very safe,” he said. “It is as safe as any other street in Laconia, and, certainly, I consider all of our streets to be very safe.”
A police officer for nearly 30 years and chief since May 2017, Canfield is an authority on the subject. He said New Hampshire, as a state, is regularly ranked the number one or two safest state in the nation every year.
Canfield oversees a staff of 43 sworn, full-time officers and a total of 68 department employees. He’s proud both of his department and the city his officers help to keep safe.
“We are not only heavily involved in community policing, but the officers here are competent and very well-trained,” said Canfield, who was a full-time Laconia police officer for 20 years before he was named chief. “They have a vested interest in the city, building some of the strongest community relations in the state and serving as a model nationally.
Allan Beetle, co-owner of Patrick’s Pub & Eatery and president of the WOW Trail, has had many conversations with Canfield about maintaining safety on the trail.
“The chief is a big supporter of the WOW Trail, and he and his staff have been great to work with in helping to keep the trail a safe experience for the many users out there,” Allan said.
Becoming a police officer was not Canfield’s first thought as he considered his career path as a teen. In high school, he had his eye on architecture. He signed up for his school’s graphic arts program to gain the design experience he thought would give him a leg up.
Then DARE officer John Egan of the Meredith Police Department came looking for a student who could help produce a brochure featuring that year’s DARE graduates. Canfield volunteered, and Egan, now retired, unexpectedly became a mentor.
“I got to know John, and eventually he asked if I wanted a summer job,” Canfield recalled. “I met with the lieutenant, and the next thing I knew, I was a police cadet. I would walk around Main Street in Meredith and issue parking tickets, and ride with an officer in a cruiser in between.”
Canfield was certified as a part-time police officer in his senior year of high school, in 1993, and when he headed off to the University of New Hampshire in the fall, he changed his major from civil engineering to criminal justice.
Canfield said four certified mountain bike officers also have a presence in the city and on the WOW Trail, riding it periodically for part or all of a shift. The department is also poised to help make residents and tourists feel a degree safer by installing technology along the WOW Trail.
The Laconia PD recently purchased three portable video cameras, giving staff members the ability to stream video live to the dispatch center. “We’ll use these cameras throughout the city, typically for special events like the New Hampshire Pumpkin Festival,” Canfield said. “As part of that program, it’s my intention to put cameras on the WOW Trail so we can monitor the spots in more remote locations.”
He notes that, in a city with 20,000 permanent residents — and a population that swells to two or three times that amount in summer — there are bound to be isolated incidents. “As a whole, all our streets are very safe, and the WOW Trail is no exception,” he said, adding, “I think it’s a source of pride for our community.”