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  • This article by Betsy Marston originally appeared in the Oct 13, 2011 issue of High Country News.
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Topic: Culture & Communities     Department: Heard Around the West     Comments: 0


Of Segways and stickshifts

News: Oct 13, 2011
by Betsy Marston


There's a new way for cops to enjoy their jobs while still looking out for bad guys. In Billings, Mont., Police Chief Rich St. John said that all of his officers who tried out two-wheeled Segways on their beats found the vehicles "fun," though the men pictured in the Billings Gazette story looked just a little dorky as they stood tall on the machines while wearing knee-length shorts and bicycle helmets. The Segway company loaned the $8,000 scooters to Billings as part of a campaign to encourage police departments and other agencies to add the vehicles to their fleets. Yet Segways have at least one drawback: They can't go faster than 12.5 mph. Chief St. John doesn't sound sold yet, saying that Segways would have to prove themselves more practical than bicycles, "which have been a useful tool for the department."


A police department's Rookie of the Year award usually goes to a young person, but in Surprise, Ariz., a city of 115,000, the honor went to Wendy Klarkowski, a seasoned 49-year-old. At 5 feet 3 inches and all of 118 pounds, "she may not be the most intimidating officer," the Arizona Republic acknowledged. But she possesses a valuable array of qualities, from empathy and unflappability to a passionate approach to the job. Surprise Police Chief Mike Frazier said that in 30 years, Klarkowski was the first woman he's known to become an officer in middle age, though "for her, age doesn't really matter. She's just committed and has the drive that it takes. You have to think, if she was 100 years old, would she go for it?" Klarkowski's son, Tim, is another winner for the department; in 2008, when he was 22, he was also named Rookie of the Year. Klarkowski started out as a 911 operator, but both Tim and his dad encouraged her to become a cop. Tim even helped coach her so she could pass the grueling physical tests that every police officer must take, including doing 50 pushups and running a mile in less than 15 minutes, plus scaling a 6-foot wall. Klarkowski, who suffered from an autoimmune disease that came close to killing her a decade ago, says her previous life comes in handy when she has to deal with parents who have called police about their teenage children. She says she tells parents what worked for her, and reminds them that "10 years down the road, when the children are grown, 'it will be worth everything you're doing.' "


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