Police, city surplus becomes Central Montana treasures

By: 
Jenny Gessaman
Reporter
An auctioneer stands in a truck bed at the end of a long row of bicycles.

Auctioneer Bob Long calls out to the crowd for bids on a lot of bikes Saturday during the Lewistown Police Department’s surplus sale.

Photo by Jenny Gessaman

For the Lewistown Police Department, storage is not quite unlimited. In fact, it’s defined by a rectangle of fence behind the wastewater treatment plant. And when that space fills up, it’s time for the Police Auction.

 

Just in case

Assistant Chief of Police Ryan Berry said there was no single answer to how the department accumulated so much . . . stuff.

“We’ve got several ways,” he explained. “Some of it is older equipment the City or department doesn’t need.”

This year’s auction featured three Chevy Impalas being retired from service and an industrial-size snow blower. Of course, many items never belonged to the department at all, including roughly 50 bicycles crowding the corner of the impound lot.

“Generally, almost all of them are reported as found,” Berry said.

The bikes, along with much of the department’s growing inventory, are abandoned property. An item will be turned in, used as evidence or recovered as stolen property. In some cases, no one comes in to claim the item, or the notified owner doesn’t take the property back.

In every case, Berry said the department keeps property in case someone does come looking. All together, the mix of abandoned items, unwanted City property and surplus police materials creates an erratic, and large, collection.

So every three to five years, when the impound lot starts to fill with cars and bikes and equipment, the police hold a surplus sale. If anyone ever wonders when the next one would be, the fenced-in lot is a perfect predictor.

 

Treasure hunters

Nathan Blackador eagerly combs through rows of wheels. Many host weedy vines, and some sport rust, but each pair of tires holds potential for him.

Nathan is in the market for a new bike, and his grandparents thought the Police Auction was the perfect place to look.

“This is a good opportunity,” Grandmother Merikay Fletchall said.

Fletchall knew her grandson was outgrowing his current bike, and she saw the auction as chance to find a replacement at a reasonable price.

Of course, Nathan was discerning about his new ride. He said his bicycle was his main transportation, taking him to swim team practice, church and friends’ homes. His ideal choice?

“Probably a mountain bike because I like going off road,” he said.

Other auction goers had a four-wheeled prize in mind. After spotting an ad in the paper, Mike Peck headed to the impound lot Saturday.

“I go to a lot of auctions, but this is just the police, and you never know what stuff is going to be here,” he said.

Peck was eying a trailer, but as a seasoned auction goer, he also had his eye on price.

“Sometimes it goes higher than it’s worth,” he cautioned.

David Woods was all too conscious of price. The mechanic tries to fix up several vehicles each year to sell. While he looks to buy for refurbishing, he knows the auction can provide good deals on cars to drive, too: A friend bought a retired police car several years ago, and, after replacing the transmission, has driven it to this day.

 

And the winner is . . .

Over 40 people attended the surplus sale, and Monday morning, Police Chief Cory Birdwell was happy to report an empty lot.

“The whole thing went well overall; we got rid of everything,” he said. “Generally, the retired patrol cars go from between $500-$1000, and they fell in there.”

Families looking to cycle together also had a good experience: From one to lots of four and five, bikes went for between $2.50 and $10.

Grandmother Merikay Fletchall was happy her grandson could find a new ride.

“This is a good thing the police do,” she said.

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