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Libby police up to full staff

by Canda HarbaughWestern News
| January 7, 2009 11:00 PM

The Libby Police Department has a full staff – for now.

Terry Watson was sworn in as the department’s newest officer at the city council meeting Monday night, Josh Harth was hired two months ago and Chief of Police Clay Coker is back from shoulder surgery.

The department now has four active patrol officers, one officer on injury leave and a chief, but the current staff configuration isn’t solid.

Watson is filling in for Officer Mark Graziano, who is recovering from back surgery and is expected to return in February. If he passes a physical fitness test, he will be off to Helena in April for 12 weeks of law-enforcement training.

Graziano could potentially be let go if he is not well enough to pass the fitness test on time. Under Montana law, officers have one year after hire to attend the law-enforcement academy, and the academy only offers four sessions per year. Only under certain circumstances can officers apply for a six-month extension. April is the last session in Graziano’s one-year window.

“He may or may not be retained if he doesn’t pass it,” Coker said, referring to the fitness test.

In addition, the department might lose an officer to another agency. One officer applied for a job with the border patrol.

“It’s up in the air right now,” said Coker. “(Staffing) could go in any number of directions in the next 30 to 45 days.”

Watson was hired provisionally, but that could change depending on what happens.

“Watson is a temporary fix that may turn into a full-time status,” Coker said. “He could be here three months, a year or permanently.”

Coker will be in a sling for at least the next month after having surgery that repaired his right rotator cuff. In mid-March, he will be under the knife again to repair his left rotator cuff. While he will be able to fulfill his managerial role, he won’t be able to patrol for at least six months.

“I will be on light duty status for at least six to eight or nine months, depending on recovery and physical therapy,” Coker said.

A full police staff consists of four patrol officers and a chief. While three of the current officers have been hired within the last year, Coker points out that the force is not unseasoned.

“We have some strength in experience,” Coker said. “It’s just that our economy’s not that great in Libby, and it’s tough to compete with other agencies sometimes.”

Watson has served as a reserve officer for the department for the past year and has 10 years experience at the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office.

Harth worked for the department from 2001-03 and was a reserve officer for a year before he was rehired in November. He also put in several years at the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office.