Dunn County Sheriff Clay Coker has announced that he will not seek re-election as sheriff and retire at the end of his term.
Coker is retiring after more than 31 years in law enforcement, including time as a police chief in Montana and as a law enforcement officer in Texas. Coker took over as sheriff of Dunn County in June 2013, following the departure of the former sheriff. He was officially elected to the position in November 2014. Coker's term ends on Dec. 31, 2018.
"It's just time to retire and be a grandpa and get out of public service," Coker said. "When I started there was no such thing as cellphones or internet or those kinds of things - pepper spray, Taser. So it's been a long career."
Coker said he had family working in the Oil Patch that encouraged him to apply for a position in the area.
"I said, 'Well, I don't know how to do anything but be a cop,' and then I got a call from my brother-in-law saying this sherriff quit and they're looking for somebody and I said 'OK, OK. I'll apply,' " Coker said.
Dunn County Commissioner Daryl Dukart said Coker came as the county was in the early stages of making changes.
"He kind of had to take over the reins and grow the sheriff's department quite a bit," Dukart said. "There was some challenges during that growth period for the purposes of budget reasons and hiring people at the same time."
Dukart said he's heard that four applications have been picked up for the position but he didn't know if the petitions had been fully signed and handed back in yet.
"I think (Coker) answered the duties that we were asking of him," Dukart said. "We'd like to see him stay, but I understand he's got other obligations and family things he wants to take care of."
Coker started his career in Texas, where he is originally from, and then moved to Montana, where his wife is originally from.
Law enforcement officers are important and necessary to communities, Coker said. He added it "takes a special kind of person to do it."
"It's dangerous, I've survived a couple gunfights and bombing and I've done two overseas police missions in Kosovo and Afghanistan over the years," he said. " It's a tough time to be doing it right now with all the anti-law enforcement tensions across the country and the world."
Coker went to Kosovo in 2000 as a part of the American contingent in a United Nations mission to establish order in the country and help them train locals to become police officers. Coker said they had a similar mission in Afghanistan later on, but it was in the midst of war.
Coker was originally scheduled to attend West Point and join the U.S. Army and play football for the Army, but he injured his knee his senior year and instead joined the Marine Corps.
"When my term was up, I had never thought about it but my parents said, 'Hey, they're hiring at the police force,' so I thought that sounded fun so I applied and got hired," Coker said. "It was just an exciting career, something different every day. It could be boring for six days and then terrifying the next moment."
While he won't miss the stress, Coker said he will probably miss the camaraderie and people he works with.
"I always try to make a difference and leave it better than what I found it," he said. "In my philosophy the best leadership traits are to teach the people below you until they don't need you anymore because then you've done your job."