For the first time in three months, Stevensville Police Chief James Marble might be able to turn off his cell phone. The town's only full-time officer is slated to finally receive some backup after residents and neighboring law enforcement agencies voiced concern over the inundated one-man force.
"It will be nice to get back to some normalcy," Marble says.
Budget cuts last summer prompted the town council to trim police department positions, including one full-time officer and a records clerk. The department's only other full-time patrolman went on administrative leave late last summer. The departures left Marble to conduct every aspect of policing in the town of just more than 2,000 people.
"I had to do what I had to do to make this work," he says.
Short staffed, Marble struggled to meet personal and professional responsibilities. A father of three who takes care of his children in the evening when his wife goes to work, Marble remained permanently tethered to his cell phone, and perpetually worried that he wasn't devoting enough attention to his family life.
"It's difficult because I can't abandon my children to go out to a call," he told the Independent in a Nov. 11 article.
Despite Marble's best attempts at meeting demands, Stevensville's crime rate jumped 76 percent between 2007 and 2009, according to the Montana Board of Crime Control. In addition, calls for assistance have been falling through the cracks, leaving local residents frustrated and worried.
"There are people who have contacted the mayor, there are people who have contacted me," Marble says.
After hearing an earful from citizens and Ravalli County Sheriff Chris Hoffman, whose deputies have been left answering calls when Marble is unavailable, the town council agreed this week to hire a part-time temporary relief officer, says Stevensville Mayor Lewis Barnett.
"He's going to hit the bricks in about two weeks," Barnett says.
"We're starting to see the light in the tunnel. It's not a sun, but at least it's a great big moon."
The town is also in the process of hiring another temporary officer. Marble says the help will give him some much-needed time with his family. But even with the extra manpower, he's still concerned that Stevensville isn't sufficiently equipped to handle long-term policing.
"This is a temporary fix to an ongoing problem," Marble says. "But it's a step in the right direction."