Cops going off-road 

A portion of $40,000 in federal grant money the Missoula Police Department received earlier this month will be put toward the purchase of a new side-by-side seating four-wheel-drive vehicle, sometimes called a UTV.

This month’s issue of Outdoor Life describes the vehicles as what you would get if you crossed “an ATV with a pickup truck.”

MPD is purchasing the golf cart-like UTV, which costs from $8,000 to $12,000, in hopes of building a more prominent presence on local trails and open space land in hopes of deterring crime in those areas.

“We’ve been looking at the fact that there is so much trail and open space that there is really no way for [the police] to patrol it,” Assistant Police Chief Mark Muir says.

Currently the police department uses five bicycle cops to patrol such turf, where patrol cars often can’t go, and are obtrusive when they can. Muir adds that the bike patrols also pose a logistical problem for the police.

“Those guys only work three months a year. The rest of that time they’re working in the schools,” he says.

Why not just add more bike cops? Because, Muir says, that requires extra training and equipment that could cost about $2,300 per officer.

“It’s not just teaching these guys to ride a bike,” he says. “They go through a three-day training session to learn to use the bike as a tool in law enforcement.”

The UTV however, requires no new training for officers, and is street legal, Muir says.

“The vehicle will also be more recognizable than a cop on a bike,” he says. “It also doesn’t have windows or doors, so I’m hoping it’s more approachable for citizens than a patrol car.”

Donna Gaukler, director of Missoula Parks and Recreation, says the vehicle should be a positive addition to the trail system, and will hopefully curb crime on city parklands.

“People drink on them, or let their dog run loose, and this will probably be effective in stopping that,” she says.
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