No longer interim, Craig police chief turns to challenging future for adopted home
Mike Cochran is grateful.
The former interim, now recently hired to be the permanent chief of police for the city of Craig, sees a lot of good in his situation — including the recent personnel decision that removed his temporary tag as the top man at Craig Police.
“I will tell you it was a huge relief,” Cochran said Wednesday. “It was a weight off my chest.”
Cochran came to Craig about four years ago from his native Georgia with his family as a long-time veteran of law enforcement looking for a new home he never expected to want.
“When I got married — my anniversary this year will be 21 years — I’d never have dreamed I’d leave my hometown,” Cochran said. “My plans were to work there, retire there, and that’s where I’d live out the rest of my life. But four years ago I finally decided with my wife that it just wasn’t home anymore. So we made the move — 1,600 miles across the country to move here.”
That move — from Dallas, Georgia, a town Cochran said had become increasingly enveloped by the growing Atlanta metro area — was with the hope that a promotion would eventually come to pass. Cochran wanted to make a difference, and he felt qualified to do so at the head of a department.
But nothing’s a guarantee, he said, and that left the Cochran family wondering, seven months into Mike’s term as interim chief, what exactly the future might hold. Craig decided in October to officially open up the search for police chief, and ended up giving Cochran the title this week.
“We’re in a position that we have the opportunity to take something good and make it great,” Cochran said.
Operating with uncertainty can be tricky, but Cochran said he was typically able to put those feelings in the back of his mind and stride forward as the interim chief with Craig’s needs at the front.
“I’ve done this before — I was interim in Georgia, and when you take that position, you know there’s a possibility it’s a temporary position,” he said. “You have to be ready for it not to necessarily be permanent. But you know, with my age, my years of service (and) my experience, it was time to step out a little bit and take a chance.”
Cochran wanted what Craig has.
“I left Georgia, my small community, much like Craig and Moffat County, that had grown to be part of Atlanta, really,” he said. “I wanted my kids to have a little bit of the lifestyle I’d gotten to live — that I was raised in. We found that here. We are very blessed and fortunate to be in a community that’s by far majority supportive of law enforcement. You don’t see that in metro areas anymore.”
And that, Cochran said, leads to the concern.
Craig Police Department, which just lost yet another officer recently, carries seven open officer positions. Turnover isn’t necessarily unusual, Cochran said, but the struggle CPD and most peer agencies across the state and nation are finding is replacing officers who leave.
“We’re seeing with almost anybody leaving that it’s not folks going to other agencies,” Cochran said.
Cochran sees the last two years as a period of enormous decline in the ranks of law enforcement. There’s plenty to blame.
“Our top priority is recruitment,” he said. “We’ve been talking about it — at council meetings, all over the community, throughout the region — law enforcement over the last 24 months has gotten, I’ll just say it, a bad reputation. That’s the easiest way to put it. That’s unfortunate. It’s very shameful to me. Because by far most people in this profession do it because they love their community. We’ve got definite challenges to face.”
From cultural changes from how law enforcement is viewed to legal discouragement from the state — like Colorado’s 2020 police reform law that, among other effects, places more liability on the shoulders of individual officers — and elsewhere, there are numerous factors depressing law enforcement recruitment.
But few of those factors are under the control of the small-town police chiefs, so Cochran and his peers must dig deep to find levers they can pull to fully staff their agencies and keep their communities safe.
“People are always coming and going,” he said. “Normally, whether it’s retirement or just getting out of the profession, there’s a backfill — a cycle, where, as retirement happens, young, new officers come in. We’re not seeing that anymore. It’s slowed to a trickle. So what do you do? What’s the answer? Participating in national conversations, as I do, it’s something nobody’s ever faced. We’ve never had this happen. Agencies have people leave in large numbers, so you look at the agency, the governing body, and you could fix that — pay, benefits, things you can fix. But that’s not it anymore.”
Cochran said the key, he believes, starts with the youth.
“These young people need to know that this is a good, honorable profession,” Cochran said. “We say it over and over — this is not a reflection of Moffat County or Craig. Our residents are supportive. Officers in metro areas, they’re unappreciated or underappreciated, and they’re told daily how unappreciated they are. But here, they’re supportive. We’ve just got to re-engage with the youth.”
The department does boast a few excellent young officers, Cochran said, and there are a small cadre more in the pipeline. Efforts might be starting to pay off in this long game of re-igniting recruitment. In the meantime, CPD will make do with less.
“It’s tough,” Cochran said. “I have to work patrol, investigations. But that’s part of what you do for your community. You step up and you do those things. We’re going to get through it.”
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Mike Cochran is grateful.