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Bozeman Police crack down on drivers skirting cell phone ban

By Katherine Mozzone, KTVM Reporter, kmozzone@ktvm.com
Published On: Mar 07 2013 07:40:04 PM MST
Updated On: Mar 07 2013 07:50:13 PM MST
BOZEMAN, Mont. -

Police are on the lookout for cop drop.  When you're on your phone driving, it's a way to let the person on the other line know there's an officer around and you've dropped your phone into your lap to avoid getting caught.

"I read the Montana code for traffic front to back and knew everything and, for a while, was the go-to guy."

Sergeant Travis Munter is passionate about traffic.  At the end of 2011, he filed away another law into his brain when Bozeman's cell phone ban went into effect.

But after a while, he and other officers started to notice a discrepancy.

"When you're on foot or in your personal vehicle you started seeing all these people that were still talking on their cell phones and we really couldn't figure out, well, why aren't we seeing this when we're on patrol?" says Munter.

He tells me he got a tip from another emergency responder about "cop drop".  

Munter decided to take a different approach.

"Using an unmarked car is one of those things that is helpful in enforcement when you're just being too visible," explains Munter.

With the unmarked car, Munter made 15 traffic stops, resulting in 10 citations.  He says everyone who got one, knew the law.
 
I asked him to take me to one of the spots where he caught the most drivers breaking the ban so, he drove to the corner of Baxter and 19th where he says he made three stops in 15 minutes.  It didn't take long before Munter and I spotted several drivers violating the ordinance.

Downtown was no different.  I found a number of drivers talking on their phones while driving just a stone's throw away from the Bozeman Police substation.

So, I decided to ask people if they'd "cop dropped".

Luke Marino says he's for the cell phone ban but admits he still had some bad habits.

"Have you 'cop dropped'?" I asked.
"Oh, yeah.  Just yesterday, no joke," replied Marino.

But his friend Sam Overton says talking on his phone while driving is a thing of the past.

"What made you stop?"
"I just feel like I'm not paying attention at all when I'm on my cell phone," Overton told me.

He's not the only one.  Laura Nicholson says she used to pull over to talk on her phone before she got a car with Bluetooth capabilities.

"I don't want to cause anybody to wreck.  We've lost two of our sons, not because of that, but I would hate for anyone to have to go through that," says Nicholson.

Safety is also why Munter says it won't be the last time you see him in an unmarked car looking for drivers on their cells phones.

"You think about all of the laws that are in place.  We enforce those laws, not just because there's a law in the books but because there's a safety factor behind it," says Munter.

Munter tells us he wrote as many tickets in five hours in an unmarked car as many officers write in an entire week.

Bozeman Police posted another update on their Facebook page, Thursday, clarifying that only hands free devices are legal.  Holding your phone and using the speaker phone is not.