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DETENTION OFFICERS–MORE THAN JUST “JAILERS”

By Sergeant Clair Swain

Training Sergeant, Lewis and Clark County Detention Center (MT)

Reflecting on the 23 years I have worked at the Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s Office, I look back on this journey that started on Dec. 6, 1999, when I took a job as a jailer at the Lewis and Clark County Detention Center.

I came into this position from a career in restaurant management and had no idea what I was getting myself into.

I was proud to put on the brown uniform with the golden badge and take on this new job with enthusiasm. I was excited to be a part of the Sheriff’s Office and I walked into the detention facility with my head held high, ready to take on the duties of a jailer. What I didn’t know was that we, the detention officers, have never been “just jailers”.

Many detention officers start their careers using detention as the first “stepping stone” to becoming law enforcement officers. Some have never considered that being an officer in a detention center is also a law enforcement profession. The work being done within these walls is often misunderstood: in a detention center, there is a second community with very specific and special needs that no outside community shares. Detention officers must adapt to a very complex, ever-changing and sometimes dangerous environment. We must begin our days with a heightened awareness of our workplace with its routine activities that do not exist in other professions.

What people may not know about this profession is that there are many hats a detention officer must wear throughout the day that he or she must be ready to change quickly depending on the variety of interactions with inmates. These hats include first responder, chauffeur, med-tech, postal worker, negotiator, counselor, messenger, janitor, security guard, mediator, librarian, plumber, laundry attendant, care giver, teacher, protector and life coach.

In my time at the detention center I have worn all of these hats and more. My coworkers have come and gone and the “jailer” label has been replaced with detention officer. What started as a job has turned out to be a career. I have found value in what I do and know that I have made a difference in the lives of inmates and coworkers.
I write this to publicly recognize everyone I have worked with over the past 23 years and all of my current coworkers. In this difficult job we are counted on by Sheriff Dutton to maintain an orderly facility while keeping ourselves, the inmates and the public safe. We must also abide by the Constitutions of the United States and Montana and the policies set by Sheriff Dutton designed to protect all parties.

So, when you see one of us, stop to say, “Hello.” Remember too that we are law enforcement officers serving you and everyone in this community and that, regardless of what hat we have on at any given time, each of us is more than just a jailer.

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