It’s been a long time since the city of Hardin has had its own police department. For most of the last half century, the city of nearly 4,000 residents has paid the Big Horn County Sheriff’s Office to provide law enforcement. That is about to change.
By the end of the year, Hardin hopes to have its new police department up and running. The man who will run it, Chief Donald Babbin, has been on the job for a little over a month now and has a tough assignment ahead of him—essentially building the brand-new police force entirely from scratch.
“The city of Hardin, they want you here, and to me, it’s a nice feeling,” says Babbin, who came to Montana after spending the last 15 years in Brunswick, Georgia. He started his law enforcement career in his home state of Massachusetts.
It will be the first time Babbin has headed up his own department.
“Working on policy, it is really intense. The other thing is just getting equipment and finding good prices, because I do believe in fiscal responsibility,” he says.
The new chief doesn’t have much of a choice when it comes to keeping the reins tight. He’s building the new department on a budget of around $500,000. That means looking for the best deals possible on everything from guns, to radios, to vehicles. A couple of used SUVs have been purchased, and Gallatin County recently donated three late-model SUVs that are in good shape and already outfitted for the job.
One of the biggest challenges is finding people. Babbin hopes to have five officers hired by the end of the year with an eventual staff of eight.
“It’s tough to hire people. The pool is getting very slim. You know stuff going across the country again, who wants to be a police officer today? But again, it takes a special person and it takes a special commitment,” says Babbin.
The new chief says it's important to build trust with the community.
“it takes a lot to build that trust. But again, it takes an effective leader that will trickle down your subordinates, your officers. You lead from the front and you treat people with that respect, and I think we will build that trust with the community. Once you start listening, I think it is going to build that trust with the citizens,” he says.
Hardin hasn’t had much luck with previous attempts to start its own police department since consolidating law enforcement with the county in 1976.
In 2009, the city almost signed a deal with American Police Force to have Guantanamo Bay prisoners housed in its empty Two River jail—funding a police department with the proceeds—but it all turned out to be a scam by a felon who was later put in jail.
“I think the city, they were probably nervous about moving forward, but I think someone that is fiscally responsible, knows what they are doing, can make this a great premier law enforcement agency for the city,” says Babbin.
And Babbin believes that will make a big difference in Hardin with a much more visible police presence that can concentrate on what’s happening inside city limits, from crime to codes.
“I think it is going to be a sense of pride. I believe in law and order and I think that is what Hardin is looking for and I think once we get boots on the ground, I think it is really going to come up. “
Babbin believes that the force will be up and running with boots on the ground by the end of December.