Flathead County Sheriff Brian Heino and undersheriff Wayne DuBois said people can expect a greater law enforcement presence in the Canyon and the department is open to putting a satellite office in the area as well.
The Coram-West Glacier Fire Department if planning on building a new station on U.S. Highway 2 at some point on a plot of land adjacent to the Glacier Grille. That could make an ideal place for a satellite office for the department.
There have been several high-profile violent crimes in Canyon in the past year.
Last April, James William Quen, 47, allegedly shot and killed Bradley Allen Winters, 33, at his Hungry Horse home in a fight over money. The case against Quen never went to trial, however, as witnesses didn’t cooperate and it was likely that Quen would have argued self-defense in a case that involved drugs.
Quen isn’t a free man, however, he now faces federal prison time on drug charges.
In February, Martin J. Chandler, 19, allegedly shot William Gene Melton, 54, over an argument about meth at Melton’s home on Bear Street in Coram.
Both of those cases have resulted in broader investigations, Heino said, though he admitted it can be frustrating to the public, because it can takes months to build a case and it can seem like nothing is being done.
He urged folks to stay cooperative with law enforcement and be proactive. The department is also making changes in its structure and direction in the Canyon.
“I can tell you, relief is coming,” DuBois said.
But folks need to keep giving police the tips.
“The best way to solve a lot of (these problems) is to get into the community,” he said. “The community has to say enough is enough.”
Last month the Northwest Montana Drug Task Force confiscated about $73,000 in drugs, most of it was meth, Heino said.
Still, he noted law enforcement can only do so much. The county is huge, at 5,286 square miles with 100,000 people. The department sees about 43,000 calls per year. They have 57 deputies and 41 of them are on patrol. At any one time, the minimum number on the streets is four.
In the summer months, they’re stretched thin, as tourist traffic in the valley amounts to 3.4 to 3.6 million visitors each summer.
Heino said he supports the School Resource Officer program. The department recently added two new SROs — one in Evergreen and one in Bigfork — with help from a Flathead Electric Co-op grant.
SROs are a valuable resource to the community, as they can often nip problems at schools in the bud before they become larger problems.
“Protecting our kids is wholeheartedly important,” Heino said. “You can’t measure prevention.”
He noted that the cyberattack in the Columbia Falls in 2017 was first recognized by a student, who reported it to the Columbia Falls SRO.
When school is out, SROs are available to be on patrol in the summertime.
On the subject of the jail, Heino noted that in the first three months of this year, 833 people were booked in the jail and 830 were released. The problem with the jail is there are a lot of people with severe emotional and mental problems and the way the jail is set up, there aren’t enough separate cells to contain them and they can’t be in the general population.
The average jail population is 112, the capacity is about 154. It’s not at crisis mode yet, but it’s time to start planning for the future, he noted.
The meeting in Columbia Falls was one of several Heino has held in the past few weeks. He said he hopes to build a citizen advisory council in the future to help steer the department.
He urged folks if they see something they like in the department to call their county commissioners and voice support.
But law enforcement only works as well as the community works.
“We all have to get out and do something,” he said. Heino continues to coach youth baseball and be involved in other activities with youth.
“I know there’s certainly kids I’ve been able to help,” he said.