Tony Larvie has hit the ground running in his new job as chief of police for the Bureau of Indian Affairs on the Crow Reservation.
"I started a week ago Saturday," he said on Wednesday in the BIA Office of Justice Services in Billings. "And I've been busy. It's been a blur."
Larvie comes to the job at a time when violence has marred the southeastern Montana reservation. A triple homicide in October and a fatal stabbing in November in Lodge Grass were followed by a shooting death in Pryor in early December.
Larvie said he sees the events as isolated incidents rather than a trend.
"It's been tragic that they all happened in such a close time frame to each other," Larvie said.
But he also sees ways in which his department can change to meet the needs of the 7,900 reservation residents.
Larvie, who will be based in Crow Agency, spent his first week and a half meeting with residents and tribal and community leaders about the role they would like to see his department play.
"They want more law enforcement at this point," he said. "I think we can do more with what we've got, too. We can work a little more efficiently and bring some new ideas to the police department."
Larvie has worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Justice Services for 11 years. The federal agency provides law enforcement throughout Indian Country, including the Crow Reservation.
Larvie was a police patrolman on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming for eight years and for the past three years conducted drug investigations with the District V Office of Justice Services in Billings.
His investigations took him primarily to the Crow and Northern Cheyenne reservations, but he also spent time on the Blackfeet Reservation. After more than a decade with the BIA, he felt ready to take on a leadership role.
As an investigator, Larvie also spent time at the Crow police department, and he saw the constant turnover of police chiefs that led to an uneven running of the force and strained relationships outside the department.
"We have a lack of communication with the tribal leaders and the other entities on the reservation, and I think at this point we need to start working on those relationships in order to move forward," he said.
As for the department, he is changing how it runs and boosting its presence in the community. He is also hiring officers to bring it to full strength.
"The majority of officers are very good at what they do; they just haven't had day-to-day direction," Larvie said.
He intends to help them develop a daily action plan. For instance, an analysis has identified the main locations and offenders that draw the department's time and attention. Those people and places are now targeted to stay on top of potential situations.
"And then we've also been conducting daily safety checkpoints," Larvie said. "We have officers set up checkpoints along the roadways to make contact with the vehicles."
Communities such as Lodge Grass and Pryor, which have lacked a police presence, have seen increased patrols, the new chief said. He has been in talks with Lodge Grass Mayor Henry Speelman about locating a substation in city hall and would like to do the same in Pryor.
The BIA also has temporarily brought in three or four officers from other law enforcement agencies to beef up the Crow police force until it is fully staffed.
"Right now we have one of the supervisory officers from the Wind River agency, and he's got two of his patrolmen up here with him," Larvie said.
The Crow department includes 11 police officers, two investigators and four dispatchers. A new position, a school resource officer, is expected to be filled after the first of the year.
The resource officer will cover all of the reservation's high schools, but Larvie said the officer will spend most of the time at Lodge Grass High School.
"I've met with the principal out there, and it just seems like it would be a great fit and a real good place to start," he said.
Larvie would like to see full-time school resource officers at more of the schools, and he plans to work with communities and the tribe to possibly expand the officers' presence in schools. He sees great value in working with schools.
"For one thing, the schools are much safer places," he said. "I think rather than responding to incidents at the school, the officers deter the activity at the school."
Even more important, he said, the resource officers build rapport with students.
Another way Larvie hopes to expand his staff is to reapply to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator for funding to hire three highway safety officers. The officers primarily work in traffic enforcement and DUI enforcement to reduce crashes and fatalities.
This past fall, the police department lost funding for the three highway safety officers, and Larvie would like to get it back.
He also hopes to eventually dedicate one officer to drug enforcement. Methamphetamine is a big problem on the Crow Reservation, and Larvie sees a local officer working with the District V investigator as a good collaboration.
Larvie knows he has a tough job ahead, but he is pleased with the response he has gotten so far.
"I've been amazed that after all the tragic incidents that have happened, I've gotten nothing but a positive reception from the people," he said. "Everybody is talking about working together and moving forward and trying to make positive things happen."