When we got wind that Missoula Police had hired a new quality of life officer to resolve disputes between neighbors irked by things like loud parties, cluttered yards and barking dogs, we envisioned a cop cruising the Garden City's tree-lined streets lulling loud canines with bacon strips and handing out Klonopin to overly enthusiastic co-eds.
It turns out that Sgt. Dustin Delridge doesn't use meat or pharmaceuticals to sooth conflicts. He's more like a mobile counselor, without a prescription pad. Envision Mayberry's Andy Taylor but without the hokey accent. "Really, I just let people talk," Delridge says. "They either realize that the problem wasn't that big to begin with or they made it bigger than it really is."
Delridge, a 15-year MPD veteran, was well aware when he took the job that locals sometimes take trivial gripes and blow them up into full-on drag-out disputes. One example of minutiae made big handed down by Delridge's predecessor came from a woman who complained to police that she could hear her neighbor's kids emit bodily functions. "She could hear them fart," Delridge says.
Though Delridge is only a couple of weeks into his quality of life gig, he's already tallied a couple of his own stories worthy of making him popular at cocktail parties. For example, he says that one individual actually photographed dog poop to prove their case against a nuisance canine. Another Missoula resident chucked a chunk of rotten chicken into a neighbor's yard to sicken and, therefore, quiet a barking dog.
"It always seems like there's a dog involved one way or the other," Delridge says.
Not all of the complaints Delridge fields are dog and bodily function-related. The 39-year-old, who once wanted to be a teacher, also supervises school resource officers and works to quell a range of additional community grievances like people peeved about adjacent properties overrun with stained linens and miniature ceramic trinkets, that host perennial garage sales.
Regardless of the gripe or who's expressing it, Delridge works to sooth bad feelings. He's a big guy who wears a uniform and carries a gun, but he speaks quietly and seems to actually enjoy listening to others. He points out that there's something to be said for living in a place that strives to achieve a quality of life that's comfortable for everyone.
"We're never going to be Mayberry," he says, "but we want to deal with these Mayberry issues."