Rural Law Enforcement

Black bear walking
This guy is the "law" in my neighborhood...

Many urban people talk about moving to the country where it's safe to raise the kids and they won't feel scared. Unfortunately, living in a rural environment doesn't necessarily mean that it's crime free. Crime is related to population pressure. In all human societies there is a fairly static percentage of the population who pose a threat to neighborhood peace and quiet simply because, for whatever reasons, they can't abide by the law. Rural neighborhoods are not exempt from this. However, as rural populations tend to be smaller and less dense, there is normally less deviance in them. On the other hand, just because you live in the woods doesn't mean that you shouldn't take normal, common sense precautions.

(As I'm typing this into the machine I'm remembering traveling in the back woods of Newfoundland and Labrador. The further out in the woods I got, the fewer locked doors I came across. I asked some of the natives I knew about this. Their usual response: "If you're in trouble in the woods and you find a shelter, why shouldn't you be able to get into it easily? We do this for the good people, criminals we meet out here don't survive the trip back to town." And then there's Uncle Dick Wootton being interviewed in 1890 at his home in Raton Pass: "In the early days we took care of criminals ourselves and we were fair about it. But then the law arrived and we were stuck: we had criminals everywhere and we couldn't do anything about it.")

Back in the heart of 21st century "civilization," county law enforcement generally falls to the local elected County Sheriff. His office is supported by a percentage of our tax dollars but, instead of his force covering x-number of square blocks as in the city, he has to cover x-number of square miles. To do this properly, he has to have good communications with his constituency. We out in the bush are his eyes and ears. To help keep the peace, we scratch each other's backs.

In my 17 years here, I might have called the sheriff's office half-a-dozen times: report a couple of accidents, report a couple of fires, request a deputy to deal with an abandoned vehicle blocking the road, and once to report some idiot over the hill with an automatic weapon target shooting during a full-out fire ban. His office has called me more often than that, usually to ask if I have seen such-and-such on the road or is so-and-so in the neighborhood. Because I know my neighborhood really well, sometimes deputies will pull up in my yard and ask directions. I sometimes get this from first responders who are lost out here, too (I know they are lost because my driveway is 2 miles into the forest from the nearest county road and because of the large ranches around me and the wildlife area to the north, there is no access to anywhere else from here). Except for new hires, I'm on a first name basis with nearly all of them. Same with the local volunteer fire department, same with the local ambulance district, same with local DOW officers. We're all in the same boat out here and we look out for each other (and for each other's kids and grandkids). Deviants don't last, they stick out too much. As soon as they do something stupid, they're identified, and things go downhill for them from there. That's one of the good things about living in a rural neighborhood where folks know and respect each other.

Call a cop in the city and you'll expect one to show in a couple minutes. Not out here. Same for ambulances and fire fighters. Our folks are just as dedicated to their jobs (and just as good at them) as the folks in the city, the difference is in the distances involved and the road conditions (did I mention lack of signage?). So it's our job to hold down the fort until they arrive. If you are going to live out here, you need to be ready to be more self-sufficient than most city folks ever thought of being.

Elsewhere in this section of this website I have mentioned my neighbors who called a wildlife officer for help with a bear, and when he arrived he explained that his job is to protect the bear from people like them. Then he walked around their place, pointed out every problem area and told them how to fix it. They followed his instructions and the bear problem stopped. That officer was recently named Wildlife Officer of the Year for all of North America.

As ordinary citizens, it behooves (great word) us to work hand in hand with our local law enforcement (fire fighters, first responders, wildlife officers) to help keep our neighborhood a safe and enjoyable place to live and raise our children. I've lived in cities all across North America and I know it's different there. But here: we're all in the same boat, going in the same direction, we need to all row together. logo
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