Thursday, March 4, 2010

Federal Money Works the Beat in Ronan

-- By Carly Flandro; Photos by Rollo Scott

When Troy Rexin got the news, he almost pulled his car over so he could get out and dance along the freeway.

After being unemployed for a year, the former auto mechanic had finally gotten a job. He would be a police officer – a job he’d always wanted – in Ronan, Mont.

Now, several months later, Rexin sits in the Ronan police department and scrubs hard at the toe of his black boot, rubbing in the polish with a cloth. It’s a brand new pair of boots, but for the new police officer they’re not shiny enough.

Rexin paid for the boots, as well as the black uniform, gun and badge that he’s wearing. Together, they cost him almost $2000. The police department didn’t have the money to pay for his new attire, so Rexin was required to buy it for himself. In fact, the department doesn’t have the budget to pay for Rexin – so it’s relying on a grant from the federal stimulus program to provide his salary.

Now, the department has six employees to safeguard nearly 2,000 local people.

“Ronan is getting bigger so the crime rate is increasing,” says James Seymour, the patrolman training Rexin. “It’s a big, big help for us to have an extra person that we don’t have to pay for.”

The Tractor Country community applied for a grant with the U.S. Department of Justice as part of President Obama’s massive economic stimulus programs. The grant will pay Rexin’s salary for three years, and the police department will pay his salary during the fourth year. After that, Rexin’s job security will depend on the department’s budget.

In the meantime, Rexin is just happy to have a job – an opportunity provided by federal efforts to kick-start an economy that stripped him of his former position at a car garage.

“I’ve heard stories of how the stimulus isn’t helping, but it’s helped me out a lot,” Rexin says. “This is the first job I’ve ever had where I wake up and want to go to work.”

On this Friday evening, Rexin and Seymour are working a ten-hour shift from 6 p.m. to 4 a.m.  For Seymour, who came two hours early, it will be a 12-hour shift. He came early to finish paperwork, and he did it for free because it needed to be done.

Ronan policemen are used to volunteering their time. Just a few blocks away, Seymour says, the police chief is spending his weekend night fixing his patrol vehicle.

“I don’t think of this as a job because that would be something you do every day for a paycheck,” Seymour says. “The people who work here do it because they are dedicated and loyal, and they don’t complain about doing stuff in their off-time.”

Rexin, who has been hunched over his boot while he scrubs it, straightens his back and holds the boot in front of him. He can see his reflection, so he knows it’s shiny enough.

He puts it on, and the two officers get ready to patrol the town. They step into their SUV and close the doors. It, like the majority of their vehicles, has more than 100,000 miles on it.

They drive to a parking lot adjacent to Highway 93, which runs through Ronan, and watch for cars that are speeding or violating the law. It’s twenty minutes before a blue van drives by going ten miles over the speed limit.

“There’s one,” says Seymour, stepping on the gas as they pull out of the parking lot.

This is the only crime they’ve seen in the last four hours of their shift. It’s been a slow night so far, but it could get busy at any minute.

Either way, with an extra police officer on hand, they’ll be prepared.

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