Eclipse Police

Casper police officer Shannon Cole cycles through the crowd Monday while patrolling downtown Casper during the eclipse festival. The police department used bike and foot patrols during the festival.

Alan Rogers, Star-Tribune

Casper police officer Shannon Cole got on his bike Monday morning for the sixth consecutive day.

The department had increased its patrols to manage an influx of visitors for Monday’s solar eclipse. Part of that effort involved bike and foot patrols.

Cole, a five-year veteran of the force, was one of four officers tasked with riding the town’s streets and trails. They had logged about 500 miles since Wednesday.

Cole had ridden 52 of those miles on Saturday and Sunday, and was taking it a little slower on the day of the eclipse, accounting for about 10 by noon. Most of those miles were spent pedaling around town, giving directions to a hotel or the nearest gas station.

One leg of Cole’s ride took him west on Second Street, before heading across the river to the Tate Pumphouse, cruising through parking lots on his way. He dodged the two-dozen telescopes set up in the lot and headed back down the bike trail, before stopping to talk to another cyclist briefly. He crossed back over the river and stopped for a sip of water and a glance at the sun at 10:40 a.m., after the eclipse had begun.

“That’s pretty cool,” Cole said, while wearing his cardboard eclipse glasses. Then he joked: “I guess we are on the dark side of the moon.”

Sgt. Ben Mattila was the ranking officer on the bike patrol for the eclipse weekend, having split away from Cole around 10 a.m. He worked drug crimes before moving to a desk job, working on departmental recruiting, hiring and promotions.

“I ride a desk all day,” Mattila said. “...This gives us an avenue to get out and talk to folks. We’ve had bike patrol at the P.D. for 20 years. I think we’re just seeing more people get interested in it because it helps you stay a little bit fit, gets you out when its nice out, especially at night.”

Policing has changed, Mattila said. Officers spend most of their days in air conditioned cruisers filled with thousand of dollars in technology. But on a bike an officer is surrounded by the sounds of the streets being patrolled. Officers’ legwork is rewarded by a greater awareness of their immediate vicinity.

There is another benefit. As the officers rode through downtown, they were frequently greeted with a wave from passersby.

There are downsides: Most calls can’t be answered nearly as quickly by bike, if at all. Sunday, Mattila wanted to assist on a call about a suspicious vehicle 15 blocks from the hotel parking lot he was riding through. He didn’t bother. The call would likely be resolved by the time he arrived at the scene, he said.

The technology in police cruisers serves a purpose. In their patrol cars, officers have computer screens showing where calls have been initiated. By bike, officers have to listen to the scanner constantly in order to respond. Occasionally, one channel will drown out another.

Cole stopped at the police station to pick up more water from the Red Cross truck parked outside. Jokes were abundant as sheriff’s deputies and police department employees watched the moon slowly overtake the sun.

Natrona County Sheriff Gus Holbrook put on his eclipse glasses and tried to watch the sun through binoculars.

“I can’t see anything,” he said, to laughter.

Cole rode south to Second Street as the temperature dropped, meeting Mattila and Officer Matt Bowman at the intersection of Ash Street and Yellowstone Highway. By the time he got off his bike, his arms were covered with goosebumps from the descending air temperature.

The three officers stood in the closed street, alternately watching crowds surrounding David Street Station and turning their eyes to the sun. Despite the surrounding air having filled with cheering and laughter, they remained on the clock.

“It’s pretty sad when everyone else is enjoying it,” Cole said. “You gotta worry about someone shooting guns or something.”

The moon obscured the sun, leaving a black spot, ringed by a white glow in the sky.

“I bet those people at the Pumphouse are getting some pretty cool pictures,” Cole said, as the crowd cheered.

Two minutes later, the sun began to reemerge and the crowds started dispersing. The three officers return their attention to watching for flare-ups as visitors leave town.

Follow crime reporter Shane Sanderson on Twitter @shanersanderson

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