Cop on the beat
By Ron VandenBoom
The Havre Police Department (HPD) Bicycle Patrol may not be very successful at stopping a speeding motorist, but when it comes to stopping vandalism or catching someone breaking into a home, it's the Bike Patrol that has the advantage.
It's not as visible as a patrol car and can cruise the streets and alleys without being conspicuous, said Patrolman Shawn Ostberg, who along with Officer Mike Labaty, and Officer Russ Ostwalt, make up the two-wheel patrol team that cruises Havre's streets.
"People don't even hear you," Ostberg said. "A lot of people don't see the bike as a law enforcement officer right off so they tend to overlook it."
It's this stealthy quality that allows the Bike Patrol to sneak up on the unsuspecting offender with greater success then a patrol car
"Because everyone's looking for a patrol car," Ostberg said.
The Bicycle patrol also serves the Police Department as a public relations tool and Ostberg said cruising the parks and biking around Havre's schools is also a big part of the job.
"It's good for the little kids to see us and it allows for a little bit better interaction then just being an officer in a patrol car," he said. "When you pull up to an intersection and there's three little kids with their bikes and bike helmets, they want to say hi and how are you."
Ostberg said it's because you become just like one of them when you're on a bike.
"And they like that," he said.
Havre Police Chief, Kevin Olson, believes the bike patrols have been an asset to Havre because it brings officers closer to the people and there is no barrier.
"We're not driving 15-25 mph down the street passing people by," he said. "... It gets us out into the neighborhood and gives us an opportunity to interact with the kids. It's another tool to use in our over-all program."
The "tool," as Olson calls it, first came into existence about four years ago under the guidance of retired Officer Randy Robinson. Ostberg took it over and is keeping it alive.
HPD has two, 21-speed, mountain bicycles with front suspension and specialized duel headlights. There is also a rack to put the officer's bags on to carry all the necessary paperwork.
Officers wear a helmet, black padded shorts, and a dark blue HPD polo shirt complete with Police Department logo. They, of course, also carry their gun, handcuffs and other standard police-officer equipment.
Ostberg said he is investigating the possibility of upgrading the uniform to a little brighter colors so they are a little more visible to the public and stand out better at night.
But being part of the bike patrol also requires special training. An organization known as "The Law Enforcement Bicycle Association," puts on a week-long school every summer in Billings that is just for bike patrol officers. Ostberg said the class covers subjects such as how to make a bicycle more effective as a piece of equipment, ways to take down a suspect from a bicycle, and different patrolling methods.
Ostberg is not always free to jump on a bicycle. Normally, he said, he will try and sneak away from patrol car duty whenever they have a full shift.
Friday and Saturday are his favorite times to bike, because that's when most of the outdoor activities are taking place. At some point during his shift, he will also try and make it to every section of Havre.
"It's a really good tool in the summertime for going down the alleys and the streets," Ostberg said. "The response time is pretty good on a bike because you don't have to worry about a lot of the traffic."
The only place Ostberg feels bike patrols are less effective is downtown where there is lots of traffic.
The bike is not a very effective tool in controlling traffic, he said. But bike officers will often see motorists doing things they shouldn't when the motorist doesn't see them. In that sense the bike officer can be effective by notifying patrol units to watch for and stop traffic offenders.
Ostberg obviously enjoys the time he spends on his bike and will even get himself pumped up for a shift on his bike by watching the TV show, "Pacific Blue," before coming to work.
"I haven't figured out yet how to jump a car without a ramp," Ostberg said. "But I'm working on it."
After all, he said, "Where else can you basically get paid to exercise."