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Missoula Police Chief Mark Muir Looks Back as Retirement Approaches [AUDIO]

Mark Muir
photo by Peter Christian

Mark Muir will be retiring as Missoula’s Chief of Police on December 20 after a 22 year career in law enforcement.

As Muir looked back on his career, it is notable that he actually came to law enforcement from the world of retail.

“My career in law enforcement actually began in February of 1991, when I left the retail field, and I had been a grocery store manager in this community,” Muir said. “I began as a patrol officer, and early in my career became a field training officer and a hostage crisis negotiator and eventually became a school resource officer.”

Muir said that experience working in Missoula’s schools was one of the most significant periods in his career.

“Those were two of the most truly meaningful years in terms of bonding with the community and expanding on my awareness of just what kind of impact law enforcement could have on young lives, and conversely, how that experience affected me, as well,” Muir said.

Muir looked back on several events that marked his career, starting with the tragic shooting of Sergeant Bob Heinle that occurred in 1998.

“Bob and I were both hired on the very same day, we went to hostage negotiator school together and were field officers together, we had shared a lot of similar experiences in our careers,” Muir said. “Frankly, I’ve said it before, but if Bob had not been shot and paralyzed, I think it far more likely that he would have become chief than I. He was a wonderful man who gave everything to this community.”

Heinle died in 2010 at the age of 47 from complications that stemmed from the shooting that paralyzed him some 12 years before.

Another series of events that Muir looked back on was the impact of the U.S. Justice Department’s investigation into sexual assaults both on the University of Montana campus and in Missoula in general, a story which will continue at least through 2015.

Looking back, I feel now that our initial reaction was 100% on track,” Muir said. “One particular media source kept trying to pull the police department into that issue, and that became a real challenge for us, obviously.”

Muir said the roles that the Missoula Police Department and the University of Montana played in the area of sexual assaults differed because of their particular jurisdictions.

“There were conflicts between the academic prosecution issues handled through the student code of conduct, where the administration and law enforcement were not necessarily privy to the same fact sets,” Muir said. “There were accusations being brought by students to the university administration that weren’t within the purview of law enforcement. There were definitely cracks that wedges could be driven into and create a divisive situation.”

Muir said the Justice Department investigation, which took almost a year to complete, has led to improvements in training and in the investigation of sexual assaults.

“The end result of the investigation has helped us to locate where some of our weak points are,” Muir said. “I believe the university is also working hard to address the issues within their particular realm and how the administration and law enforcement can work together. There are some systemic conflicts that exist, regarding student confidentiality and the laws of criminal justice information, but we’re working hard to find our way around some of those issues.”

Another recent incident that deeply affected Chief Muir was the severe injury to officer Deni Poling, that resulted in another officer having to use deadly force to stop the suspect, Dawnette Eaton.

“In the last eight years, I think we have had four officer-involved shootings, and an incident ;like that always brings everyone together,” Muir said. “That night in particular, there was a serious concern regarding the extent of Deni Poling’s injuries, and we were much relieved the next morning that the news was much rosier than we had thiought. Deni Poling is a tremendously tough woman who has fought back to where she could return to work. It’s been difficult for her family.”

Muir pointed out the nature of the job of a law enforcement officer is to put their life on the line every time they put on the uniform.

“Those are the nights that are troubling, and they’re the kind of experiences that cause a police officer’s life to be different, in that when you leave your family to go begin your shift to go protect the city, that there’s a lot of difference between your job and other types of shift work,” Muir said.  “I’ve been very fortunate in that in my career I’ve never been required to use deadly force, but we recognize that at some time we have have to do so.”

Now that his career in law enforcement is nearing an end, he said he hopes to be accepted into the UM Law School and become an attorney.

Assistant Chief Mike Brady was named the new chief on Friday, November 15th by Missoula Mayor Jon Engen, and pending approval by the city council, will assume the office when Muir steps down on December 20.

(Because of the length of the audio interview, it has been broken into two sections)

Missoula Police Chief Mark Muir (Part One)

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Missoula Police Chief Mark Muir (Part Two)

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