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On The Party Patrol
By LISA BRITTON
Of the Baker City Herald
People tend to stare when you're sitting in a police car.
It doesn't matter that you're in the passenger seat not the back and the reason is simply riding along to observe the job of a Baker City Police Department officer.
Actually, the sideways glances are fairly normal, says Officer Michael Regan.
"You just get used to it," he says.
On the flip side, those looks also indicate that the police presence is known which, of course, is exactly the point.
Wednesday's city graveyard shift more resembled those from a year ago with three officers and a supervising sergeant than today's typical patrol of two, the result of the city not replacing a pair of officers who left in 2002.
Regan's traffic detail mainly kept him around downtown Baker City.
"When you stop people downtown, it deters others from driving (drunk)," explains Sgt. Wyn Lohner.
In addition to patrolling for traffic violations, Regan's nighttime calls ranged from chasing a dog running loose down 10th Street to lecturing juveniles breaking curfew as fireworks rang in the new year.
At 9:30 p.m., Regan climbs into his patrol car to begin his detail through downtown.
"Basically, it's a Crown Vic (Ford Crown Victoria) with a few additions," he says.
These include the two-way radio that keeps officers in contact with dispatch and other officers on patrol, a control panel for the lights and sirens and a patrol rifle secured upright between the driver and passenger seats.
"It's something we wouldn't normally take out of the car unless we have an active shooter," he says.
Then it's off into the snowy, slick night of Baker City.
These winter conditions are handy sometimes, Regan says.
"Ice and snow does make tracking people a lot easier," he says.
Especially when the criminals go straight home after committing a crime.
"It was pretty neat to follow the suspect's prints and bicycle prints to the front door and then have him deny it," he says.
Regan steers the patrol car down Main Street, the heater turned on low and his window rolled partway down to keep an ear to the outside noises.
City police officers are on two-month shift rotations, and Regan's duty is from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.
But how busy can he be in the seemingly quiet town of Baker City?
"It depends on the time of year who's active and who wants to be a criminal that night," he says.
Nighttime patrols generally see some of the more violent crimes, he says, like domestic disputes and problems that stem from an overindulgence of liquor.
Daytime calls more likely involve barking dogs and found property.
"More the quality of life issues," Regan says.
There are the exceptions.
"You'd be surprised. My highest DUI (driving under the influence of intoxicants) was in the middle of the day," he says. "You just never know."
In that case the driver's blood-alcohol content measured .31, nearly four times Oregon's legal limit of .08.
Regan keeps an ear tuned to the chatter on the police radio as he cruises the side streets. Throughout the night he listens to transmissions from Oregon State Police troopers, Baker County Sheriff's Office deputies and other city officers.
"You never know when they'll need assistance," he says. "Especially in a small city it's important to know what the other officers are doing."
Patrolling a smaller city does have its advantages.
"Oh, I know who this is. She has a warrant out cite and release," Regan says as he flips on his lights. "Being a smaller town, you get to know vehicles and people."
As the red Mitsubishi rolls to a stop at the curb, Regan pulls up behind it and aims his dash-mounted spotlight at the car's license plate that is entirely shrouded in snow. It's the passenger in the car he's looking for.
As Regan walks up to visit with the two people in the vehicle, Sgt. Lohner parks behind the patrol car, then gets out to stand watch while Regan returns to fill out a citation.
"Normally I'd stand behind the car, have a whole car length between me and the suspect," Regan says.
Suddenly the driver of the spotlighted car opens the door and hops out clutching something black in his hand.
Regan instantly jumps from his seat and Lohner moves closer only to assess that the driver is holding a black shoe, which he uses to bash the snow away from the license plate.
Perhaps not the most prudent action in the eye of the police, Regan says later.
But the need to quickly assess the situation is one that drew him to law enforcement.
"I enjoy problem-solving. It's quick thinking, we actually have life-and-death judgments," he says.
And every patrol is unique.
"You could ride with different officers for a week and see different problems," he says.