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Montana's only Black police chief appreciates Hardin community

Paul George, Hardin Police Chief
Posted at 2:07 PM, Feb 23, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-23 16:22:56-05

Paul George became Hardin's chief of police in 2023 and has since fallen in love with the town.

“I’m loving Hardin. Hardin’s a beautiful community. Nice and small," George said on Thursday. "Close enough to Billings to where you can go out and do stuff, but far enough away where you’re not dealing with all the sirens and the craziness and drama that’s going on in Billings right now."

Every day is a busy day for George.

"A day in the life of the Hardin police chief... I review our officer's reports. I come in, I say, ‘Hey everybody.’ I come out and ride for a little bit and then I start fielding citizens, calls, complaints, whatever the case may be," George said. "Schedule is usually pretty booked up."

"My passion right now is still being out in the field and being hands-on and boots on the ground,” said George.

Montana's only Black police chief appreciates Hardin community

"I’m community-oriented... I want my officers to be community-oriented. If anybody needs anything, sometimes I know I’m a little difficult to get a hold of. I am the only supervisor I currently have. So just make an appointment, give me a call, shoot me an email, come see me," George said. "Invite me over to come talk to you, have some coffee. But anything you need, feel free to reach out to me."

It’s a lot of work but a big accomplishment for George, who was born in the U.S. Virgin Islands but grew up in southeastern Georgia.

“(I'm) originally from the U.S. Virgin Islands. Grew up in south Georgia, northeast Florida. A place called St. Marys, Georgia. And grew up there most of my life," George said. "I started off as a dispatcher and went from dispatching to the road. I love dispatching. I probably would go back to it."

Now he’s in Montana working to help the community.

George driving in Hardin
George driving in Hardin

“Once I got here I realized that I was probably the first and only African-American chief in the state of Montana," George said.

He says it’s not about the color of his skin. It’s simply about having a seat at the table.

"I guess you could say I am trailblazing the way. But it’s not something I necessarily focus on because I don’t see color," said George. "I hope other people don’t see color. I think it’s just a person who’s doing a job. And that’s what I’m here to do, is to do a job and fulfill what the citizens of Hardin want."

George added the department is looking for new officers and is hoping to appoint a permanent sheriff after the death of Bighorn County Sheriff Darrell King in November.

“I know they’re looking for an appointed sheriff. They did not make an appointment today, that meeting was earlier today. So they are keeping Jeramie Middlestead as the interim sheriff. Hopefully, they appoint him soon because we’re working really well together,” George said. "We’ve got a few positions open for police officers that I’m still trying to fill. So I’m doing interviews, trying to get our cars completely outfitted. So that way, by the time I get my guys hired, they’re ready to get in a car and hit the ground running."

hardin map

He's making important decisions for the town he now calls home.

“It’s all enjoyable but my favorite part is to be able to make a difference for my staff and the community," said George. "It’s different being an officer and having someone at the top make decisions that you don’t think are the greatest decisions. But it’s good to be in that seat and be able to make good decisions. Not only for our internal staff but our community as a whole."

(SEPTEMBER 2023) Hardin’s new police chief has big aspirations for the small department. Paul George took over the fledgling department late this summer.

“I have the opportunity to build a department that I have envisioned for years,” says George.

He never imagined it would be in Montana: “I’ve been enjoying it since I’ve been here. I’ve really been enjoying the city—loving the landscape of Montana. Loving the people. The people are completely different than down in the Southeast. People are a lot nicer."

Chief Paul George 3_2.8.1.jpg

It’s quite a contrast from Atlanta where the new chief last worked—not that Hardin or any place these days is immune from crime.

“There’s a lot of crime that comes off the interstate into the city,” George says.

He’s been busy trying to hire and train officers to get the department up to full staff. Currently there are six officers on staff, but it’s slotted for nine. His hope is that number will grow in the future.

“I’m very community-oriented. I love a community-oriented police officer and police department,” the new chief says.

George is a native of St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, but grew up in southeast Georgia. He has been in law enforcement most of his life.

He started volunteering as a police explorer at the age of 14. This is his first job as a chief.

“When you are a young boy playing with your neighborhood friends and play cops and robbers, most young boys grow out of that. And fortunately, I never did. I stuck with it, pursued it and here I am today,” he says.

In Hardin, he might just be making Montana history.

“There’s not a lot of African-Americans in Montana to begin with. I’ve done my own research and think I might be the first African-American chief in Montana,” he laughs.

He doesn’t think that puts extra pressure on him.

“I’ve always stayed on the right path so I don’t think there is any pressure at all. I think it is a good thing and I think it just paves the way for other minorities to exceed to the top,” he says.

Chief Paul George 2_2.4.1.jpg

George says that so far people have been welcoming and he believes he’ll be able to forge a good working relationship with the Big Horn County Sheriff’s Office.

Donald Babbin, the previous chief who started the department two years ago, had voiced frustrations about the relationship with the county—but now there is both a new sheriff and a new police chief.

“I know there were some issues with the prior chief and some constituents within the county but I’m hoping with a new face and new vision that we won’t have those same issues,” George says.

He says his goal is to turn this small department into one of the premier police departments in the state.

“There’s definitely a need here and that’s what the community wants and what I hope to give them is the professional, effective law enforcement services that they are wanting,” he says.