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Coker resigns as chief of police

by Canda Harbaugh & Western News
| July 16, 2009 12:00 AM

After 13 years as Libby’s chief of police, Clay Coker will resign Aug. 1 to pursue a law degree. He submitted a letter of resignation last Friday.

Sgt. Jim Smith will take on the role of interim chief of police until the hiring process is completed, Mayor Doug Roll said. The city council will discuss the process in more detail during its July 20 meeting.

Coker has been accepted into the University of Montana’s School of Law, and his place on the waiting list makes it unclear whether he will attend this fall or next fall. He plans on commuting to Missoula for at least the first year.

Coker has had an eye on law school since before 2006 when he earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice through an online program.

“This starts my 23rd year in law enforcement,” he said. “I could probably do it another 10 years, but I knew that some day I would have to get out of it.”

Terrorism law sparked an interest in Coker when he attended an FBI law enforcement academy last year.

“The terrorism law angle is kind of a new field in the last couple of years,” Coker said. “That’s just one angle I’m looking at.”

Coker has aspirations beyond law school, though he says he’s taking it one step at a time.

“I’d thought of pursuing the bench,” Coker said. “It might be 20 years in the future but it’s something to strive for.”

Coker took the lead in assembling a new police force in 1996 when the city ended a contract with the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office. He is proud of the legacy. 

“The department had been going for 13 or 14 years,” Coker said. “Nobody thought we’d last for 13 months and here we are 13 years later.”

Before he became chief, Coker was a Lincoln County sheriff’s deputy with nine years of law-enforcement experience. A veteran of the U.S. Marines, he also worked for the Paris, Texas city police force and the Lamar County, Texas sheriff’s department.