Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Living The Big Sky Life: Bulldog Patrol

Memorable Bulldogs on Patrol,
a continuation of "It Takes A Village"...

If I had to describe the temperament of Montana law enforcement during my 1992-1996 tour of duty, I would have to describe it as a cross between the Wild West's brand of vigilanteism, and a Southern-styled version of indigenous backwoods justice.

Usually all was well as long as you weren’t on the wrong side of law, or on the bad side of the man wearing the badge and the holster, or perhaps wearing the wrong skin color. And if you were a woman with the audacity to take legal issue with one of the Valley’s good ole boys, expect to be reminded of your proper place posthaste.

With that assertion, I’m reminded of the time I was asked to accompany a friend to the Flathead County Attorney’s office in Kalispell on her quest to spur a criminal investigation into the malfeasance of Chas Hickey - something she had been a victim of. We were directed to wait in a back conference room until a small man wearing a dark business suit walked in with a yellow legal pad tucked under his arm. He introduced himself as the Assistant County Attorney. As my friend began to describe her reason for being there, I watched this man fidget uncomfortably while giving the pretense of taking notes. It was his expression, though, that said it all. His expression revealed, in no uncertain terms, how unhappy he was about being forced to waste his time listening to a woman he didn’t want to assist. 

It didn’t take long for the County Attorney’s office to proclaim that it had no interest in pursuing the matter when it officially bowed out. No surprise there. Ultimately my friend’s legal pursuits grew to include the bank and its construction loan department. She was forced to search for an attorney on the other side of the Rocky Mountains because no Flathead County lawyer in his right mind would dare take legal action against the Whitefish Credit Union. As for Chas Hickey, he never even got a good talking to. I later heard that he didn’t miss a beat in finding a new victim to prey upon, no doubt thanks to his lead position on the Whitefish Welcome Wagon committee.

Another personal experience I had with local law enforcement happened after a group of gang-bangers from the state of Washington landed in Whitefish one weekend, and proceeded to mark their new territory with a can of black spray paint all over the side of Safeway building. The following Monday morning, I received a phone call at my office from a Whitefish police deputy who informed me that he was collecting contributions from all of the local businesses to basically put together a posse to run the gang-banging thugs out of town. They had sources, and therefore had a lead on where to track the offenders down. He assured me that when they were finished with the taggers, no gang member would ever return to Whitefish. I managed to sidestep contributing to that cause, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t shutter when I felt the shiver trickle down my spine.

I will admit though, I think that police chief must've handled the situation as promised, for the town had no further issues with foreign gangs behaving badly on sacred Whitefish turf while I lived there.

With minimal observation, it would be easy to conclude that the Montana I called home during the 1990's had a somewhat contradictory perception of what it meant to preserve and protect individual rights under the law.

On one hand, the area simmered with a deep rooted distrust of anything that was different or threatened change. And newcomers had a habit of trying to change things. So if you weren’t from Montana (California being the worst possible place to be from), you were an outsider worthy of suspicion, and you had a choice: you could start doing things the Montana way, or face the unsavory consequences (which were usually designed to run you out of town).

On the other hand, the region proudly demonstrated a strong sense of patriotism that oftentimes bordered on the fanatical, when it became all about their interpretation of life, liberty and the pursuit of our second amendment right to bear arms. Oh, and owning an American-made pickup truck.

Nothing affirmed this more for me than the incident involving Bubba the building inspector, and the day he went out to do a routine inspection of a house on Lion Mountain reported to have an un-permitted room addition. Bubba had barely gotten out of his Ford pickup when a shotgun exploded over his head into the trees beyond. The homeowner ordered Bubba off of his property as he re-cocked and declared that no one would tell him what he could or couldn’t do on his property. Shaking in his cowboy boots, Bubba returned to town for police reinforcements. And with reinforcements, Bubba suffered through a repeat performance a week later, after which the matter was forever dropped. This was Montana, and frankly, the man on the mountain had a point.

None of this is intended to insinuate that the modus operandi of big city law enforcement is any better or worse than that of a rural police force. Clearly, they both have their propensities and shortcomings. It’s just that the idiosyncrasies of big city law enforcement are more publicized and anticipated, even diluted somehow by the desensitized masses it polices. Whereas small town justice tends to be a little too close for comfort, disconcertingly condensed, and intolerant of those who don't fit in, which makes it a lot easier to be personally singled out – especially if you’re an ‘individual’.

Although almost 20 years have passed since I witnessed firsthand, justice Montana-style, I have no reason to believe that anything has significantly changed, other than perhaps the local police chief, who’s probably long retired by now.

Living The Big Sky LifeTM
© by DK King