Parting Shots

Build It, They’re Here Now!

I still want to believe that the ongoing increase in Flathead crime, and the overload on our local law enforcement, is just a blip

By Dave Skinner

One of the best parts of being Montanan is not needing to think about crime. Or WAS one of the best parts.

Last Thanksgiving or so, a couple of dirtbags broke into the property where I’ve got my office, moving barriers and cutting fence; our main gate was locked. They stole a sled trailer with two top-end sleds, and a classic 1971 Chevy shortbox that my late friend Bret Sickmann had restored and souped up.

My first thought was, either there’s a chop shop close by, or these punks are morons. The pickup is locally famous, the Bravemobile, in screaming Flathead orange and white.

Sure enough, the very next night, one of the dirtbags was caught red-handed, IN THE BRAVEMOBILE, with the bed full of stolen tools he was lifting from Silverbrook. The trailer, no sleds, was later found someplace near Olney.

Now, this wasn’t my stuff, but all of us involved, me, my landlord, and our buddy who owned those toys, were utterly ballistic, especially when we learned there was an ongoing blitz of property hits in our area north of Evergreen.

Anything not welded down was fair game for these weasels, and gone. Worse, the blitz wasn’t just “local” but countywide, according to the harried deputies who caught our case. So yeah, up went a hidden game cam (nothing but turkeys and deer since). We now diligently close the gates and lock up every evening. And look carefully for new empty spots. Gosh, I hate having to do that.

Adding insult to injury, our bonehead crook is still out, never mind accomplices. Last I heard, he and his counsel made an offer of $2,000 restitution and no jail time. Seriously!?! Apparently, but a local judge rejected that “offer.” Still, we wait, further “warned” the crowded county jail might mean a short “vacation,” or none.

Pardon me, but crime deserves punishment at least equal to the very real harm done. Felony grand theft isn’t trivial. 

So, I’ve got an idea, which was suggested to me more than once by others. I still want to believe that the ongoing increase in Flathead crime, and the overload on our local law enforcement, is just a blip, something a few real winters, or some real punishment, will remedy. Soon – then we can get back to being Montana nice.

With that burst of naïve optimism, count me as not interested in some big, empty jail albatross. I’d rather consider flexible, temporary means to create jail space we need right now, to deal with the crooks now running free in our community – the intent being to get criminals to either go straight, or simply go away. 

I’ve seen “modular jails,” shipped on railcars and bolted together lickety-split, I spotted one of those in a train crossing Wyoming a couple of years back. But Bolt-a-Slammers are still spendy and I’ve got my doubts as to whether or not a “used” market exists.

What else might work? Since the concrete Cenex silos west of downtown are spoken for, how about the old Kmart in Evergreen?

First, what a great location! Can’t miss it! And, it’s a straight shot from every police station in the valley and beyond!

Second, what a great building! There’s a nice garage bay where paddy wagons can discreetly load and unload their precious cargo. There’s so much parking space, maybe half of it could be fenced off for a rockpile (excuse me, exercise yard). And the open space inside? Oh, baby! Plus there’s already water, HVAC and sewer service!


With the Chinese economy hitting the skids, there should be plenty of international 20 footers (the sturdiest kind) on the surplus market very soon. I suspect there are designs available for conversion to “humane” but felon-proof container-based jail cell units. If not, we have local skills.

Say we start with ten boxes, wired, plumbed and hardened. The first tranche of inmates (not hard cases, but non-violent) could be “rehabilitated” and further gain skills by forming the crew needed to re-roof the structure and put up fence.

You’re welcome.