TOWNSEND — At the end of this week, there will be a new top law enforcement officer in Broadwater County.
Broadwater County Sheriff Wynn Meehan is retiring, after seven years in the job. He’ll be replaced by current sheriff’s office Capt. Nick Rauser, who was elected in November.
Meehan is already in the process of moving out of his office. He believes he’s leaving his department in good shape.
“At the end of the day, the agency, the office of the sheriff, it doesn't stop,” he said. “It doesn't matter who the sheriff is – when that one walks out, the new one jumps in and they take off from there. They're not going to miss a beat.”
Rauser, who supervises the county detention center and assists deputies in other roles, is set to be sworn in Friday at 9 a.m.
“It's just been a humbling experience knowing that the place I grew up, I have so many people that support me,” he said. “I'm looking forward to it. I'm a little nervous, but I think it's a good nervous. A lot of respect for the position and what it all entails.”
Meehan has spent 26 years in law enforcement, including 22 with the Broadwater County Sheriff’s Office. He was appointed sheriff in December 2015 after his predecessor Brenda Ludwig retired.
In seven full years as sheriff, Meehan faced the challenges of law enforcement in one of Montana’s fastest-growing counties, including a spike in emergency calls, large wildfires and evacuations, and budget challenges that led to a successful campaign for a public safety levy.
“We've kind of plateaued in our number of calls for service, but the aspect of that is our patrol staff is busy doing investigations, unlike five years ago or four years ago, when they had more free time to be more proactive,” he said. “They've kind of gotten in a reactive stage of just trying to process all the cases that are coming through.”
Meehan has also had to deal with three employees’ deaths – including Deputy Mason Moore, who was shot and killed in the line of duty in May 2017.
“When you start looking at these things, they do consume your time, they consume who you are,” he said. “I focused a lot of energy on making sure that my staff and their families and the family of Mason was taken care of the best we could. Unfortunately, I neglected my own, and that was a hard pill to swallow that at the end of that. I looked at everybody else and wanted to take care of them, and not myself and the ones that are dear to me. So learning lessons – it's been a tough road, but we've gotten there.”
Rauser has spent 14 years in law enforcement, with about six of those at BCSO, first as a detention officer and later as a deputy. He said he wants to continue the work Meehan started, and he anticipates most changes will be small and the public may not notice.
Rauser said one of his main challenges will be recruiting and retaining good employees.
“The last couple of years, we've gone out and gotten raises for all the deputies, and I'm still not seeing a lot of applicants,” he said. “People just don't want to put up with what we deal with on a daily basis. It takes a special person to do that.”
He’s also promising to continue looking at ways to support services in the fast-growing northern and southern ends of Broadwater County.
“I want to keep my focus on that to make sure that the whole county is getting the same service,” he said.
Meehan said he’s been thinking about moving on from the sheriff’s role for a while, but wanted to remain through the end of his term to give his successor time to ask questions and learn. When he steps out of the office at the end of the week, it will be a big shift in his lifestyle. He’s taken a job with Watson Irrigation in Townsend.
“It’s a good way for me to sort of transition out – learn how to be somebody that I'm not familiar with, because I always had a title,” he said. “And so it'll be interesting to just be Wynn Meehan.”
Broadwater County isn’t the only place this type of transition is taking place. According to Nanette Gilbertson, executive director of the Montana Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, new sheriffs are taking over in 16 counties across the state after this year's elections.