Oct 30, 2015

After 33 years in law enforcement, Cody police chief retires

“When you come out of this positon, you come out with a lot of battle scars,” says outgoing Cody Police Chief Perry Rockvam. “A lot of battle scars.”

Rockvam said his 33 years in law enforcement made for a great career and he can't think of anything he would rather have done. He said he worked with remarkable officers who performed their jobs with care and compassion. He’s proud of what he accomplished as an officer and as a chief. But in taking a long-planned retirement and heading for a new job as a Billings area pastor, there are also things he won’t miss.

Perry Rockvam is retiring as Cody's police chief. Photo courtesy Cody Police Department
“The police work part of it, that is a blast,” Rockvam said in a recent interview. “It’s the other things that can wear you down: the personnel issues, the politics, those things that are hard to deal with.”

“And to do it for as long as I did, I’m ready,” he said. “I’m ready and I’m excited. I’m excited to be moving on to the next chapter in my life.”

During his career, Rockvam served as a deputy sheriff, a patrol officer (in a vehicle, on a motorcycle and on a bicycle), a detective and an assistant chief at agencies in South Dakota, Arizona and Cody. He spent more than 20 years with the Cody Police Department, the last 11 as its chief.

Today (Friday) is his official last day.

Rockvam considers the management of the 2006 Hell’s Angels World Run in Cody as one of the highlights of his career — though he added that managing the event was the work of a “great group of team players” who worked together.

Behind the scenes, he said it was a complex operation for law enforcement.

“People don’t have a clue or an understanding of what it took to manage ... that event in the community and the conflicts and the things that were going on in the motorcycle world at that point,” Rockvam said.


He said his department treated the motorcycle club members “with great respect.” The chief’s philosophy was to treat the vistiors “the same as we do our own citizens; nothing more and nothing less.” Rockvam believes the Hells Angels felt it was fair “that we didn’t go out and target them or write them citations or things like that.”

A smaller group of the bikers returned to Cody in 2014 and, much like 2006, there weren’t any significant problems.

There was some criticism during both rallies that police overreacted, but “I’ll take the criticism any time. Any time,” Rockvam said, adding, “We were prepared and we had the capabilities of doing the things that we needed to do.”

In addition to avoiding trouble, he says managing the police response to the influx of bikers ultimately helped him manage the response to the abduction of a young Cody girl in October 2012.
Because of the skills learned during the Hells Angels rally, “we were able to get up to speed right away with what we needed to do,” Rockvam said.

The girl was found a few hours later and officers from Cody and other agencies used her recollections and police work (like pulling surveillance camera footage) to track down the perpetrator within a matter of days.

Rockvam said he most enjoyed working as a detective, but going into administration and making changes he felt were needed was also rewarding.

“I knew what I wanted to do and I knew where I wanted to take the department,” he said.

The Cody Police Department has experienced some internal conflict in recent years. As an example, court records indicate there was disagreement within the department about then-Assistant Police Chief George Menig’s actions during a 2010 arrest. (The arrest is now the subject of a lawsuit.)

Speaking generally, Rockvam said “we’ve had some internal struggles and so yeah, it has been frustrating” as chief. However, he suggested similar issues exist in any workplace.

Rockvam added that personnel matters are confidential by law, and it's bothered him to hear people expressing opinions without having all the information.

“To me, sometimes that’s even more frustrating — is that people will talk like they actually know,” Rockvam said, adding that, “I hear so many times, so many things and stuff, and I’m just going, ‘Wow! Where did that come from?!’”

The Cody Police Department, shown after Rockvam's Oct. 23 retirement party. Photo courtesy City of Cody
He similarly says that, unless someone has worked in law enforcement, they don't fully appreciate what it takes to do the job. He also thinks most people don’t see how officers are working to serve the community, make it safe and improve quality of life.

“People take for granted that, at any time, you can call the police department and we will be there. Any time,” Rockvam said. “That is a huge commitment and a huge service that law enforcement does and I don’t think it’s appreciated — and I especially don’t think it’s appreciated in today’s world.”

With the antagonism and scrutiny, threats seemingly on all sides and difficult calls to handle — ranging from domestic disputes to suicides to child molestation — Rockvam’s glad to be ending his career in law enforcement.

“Knowing that those types of things they’re going to be facing in the future, I don’t envy them,” he said of new officers.

A new chief is expected to be in place within five or six months.

Rockvam hopes someone within the department is picked to replace him, but “I know that the city will pick the best candidate that they feel will do the job that they want.”

In his new job as a Harvest Church pastor in Lockwood, Montana, Rockvam said he’ll miss the area’s mountains and Cody, which he called “a great place to raise our family.”

It’ll also be weird to be out of policing after three decades as an officer, Rockvam said, “but I know that it’s time.”


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