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'I'm always a Gallatin County resident:' Former sheriff transitions into new statewide role

Posted at 2:52 PM, Feb 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-16 16:52:31-05

HELENA — Former Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin served his county for 27 years but has now seized the reins of his new role, director of the Montana Department of Corrections.

Gootkin sat down with MTN News to talk about the big transition, how he remembers his time as sheriff and what he aims to bring to the capitol.

The name Brian Gootkin is a familiar one in the Gallatin Valley going on 30 years now.

Now he has a new role after being tapped by Gove. Greg Gianforte.

But, still, he says his heart is in Gallatin County.

Brian Gootkin.jpg

“It’s like drinking through a tsunami,” Gootkin says. “It’s overwhelming but awesome, in a good way, and I can’t tell you how happy I am.”

It’s a uniform and a badge that those from Three Forks and Big Sky to Bozeman and Belgrade had come to recognize, along with the sheriff wearing it.

For Gootkin, change is swift.

“Weird. Bittersweet. Awesome,” Gootkin says. “Just like an emotional roller coaster between it happened so fast and then switching gears from one life to another.”

A life that included scenes like last summer's Bridger Foothills Fire.

“We help these people,” said Gootkin from a fire-torn neighborhood above the M. “We get them back on their feet and we give them hope.”

Bringing an American flag back to one of many families who lost everything.

And wearing that badge to reduce recidivism, which Gootkin now takes to a statewide stage.

“It’s bigger. Everything is bigger,” Gootkin says. “Everybody says congratulations on the promotion. I wouldn’t necessarily say that it’s a promotion because sheriff… I don’t think there’s anything more important than being the sheriff of a county and representing people but bigger, definitely. I mean everything that I touch or make a decision on, there’s a ripple effect throughout the entire state.”

And not just reducing, but re-defining recidivism, a number that rests at about 20 percent of those leaving the Gallatin County Detention Center now.

“The Department of Corrections goes off the federal definition, which means the only time that someone recidivates is when they return to prison and that’s not, in my mind, that’s not re-offending so we need to get our stakeholders together and that’s another huge thing is preparing some relationships with local law enforcement, the judges, the county attorneys, all of our criminal justice partners,” Gootkin says.

But 27 years don’t just disappear.

Four years in the Air Force at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls, patrolling Gallatin County’s roads as a deputy, serving as a drug task force detective, the jail administrator, and undersheriff - Gootkin holds onto those years the most.

“I’ve said it since day one: Thank God we live in Montana,” Gootkin says. “I’m always a Gallatin County resident. I always love Gallatin County and the people here and no matter what I’m doing statewide to try to help make things better, my heart is always here and I’ll always do whatever I can to make sure that we’re safe.”

A phrase he’s said a year ago that he says rings true now.

“Everyone that puts this badge and this uniform on does it for one reason or should do it for one reason and one reason only,” said Gootkin. “That’s to help people.”