After 33 years serving the Bitterroot Valley as a crime prevention officer, D.A.R.E. educator and school resource officer, deputy Chuck Gividen is finally turning in his badge this week and stepping down as the longest-tenured member of the Ravalli County Sheriff's Office.
Gividen was an institution in many of the valley's schools during the course of his career, working with at-risk youth and teaching classes on everything from drug abuse prevention to military history. Gividen, now 60, said the time was right for him to retire.
"A lot has changed since I was first hired," he said. "The roads, the size of the department, how we respond to calls and how we deal with calls. There are a lot more people now, and a lot of new addresses and roads we have to learn. The types of calls we get have changed. We didn't carry radios or cell phones or repeaters when I first got here, so if we were somewhere in the middle of nowhere there was no way to take a call. The technology has changed quite a bit. We also had bright red cars, and I had more hair back then."
Having served under four different sheriffs since 1979 and watched many other officers come and go, Gividen attributes his longevity to the fact that he was able to work in the schools.
"Working as a school resource officer, it's the one time in regular law enforcement that you get to be proactive instead of reactive," he explained. "Usually you pick up the pieces after it's all happened, whereas as an SRO you get to work with the kids and prevent them from doing things that can get them in trouble. That's what's rewarding, is helping kids through some of their problems before they do things that might get them in trouble. That was the greatest experience of my career, just working with kids and seeing the changes."
Over time, Gividen said he took great pride in helping kids find their way out of potentially bad and life-altering situations.
"They are all good kids but some of them make dumb decisions," he said "You have to help them out and hopefully change their way of thinking and way of acting. They are trying to do what is right, and seeing them excel in school and being leaders is a very rewarding experience. I definitely make sure I spend more time with the at-risk kids. You can tell what kids might be leaning in that direction, and so I will single them out, and go out of my way to talk to them, and find out their goals and ambitions and hobbies. Just talking to them makes a world of difference sometimes."
Gividen didn't necessarily plan for his career to take him down the path of working in schools. Sheriff Dale Dye asked him in 1979 to work as a crime prevention officer, using McGruff the crime dog puppet in many of the schools. Gividen then ran the D.A.R.E. program from 1990 to 1997, and became a SRO in 1998. He worked in the Corvallis School District for one year, the Victor School District for nine years and in the Florence-Carlton School District until this spring.
"My career kind of took a different twist than most careers do," he said. "It's been good."
Because he spent so much time in the schools, Gividen said he was just as recognizable to many of the kids and parents as the faculty.
"I think I've got more tenure than most of the teachers," he laughed. "I've had teachers actually tell me that they could tell I had arrived at the school because they could feel the kids settling down. The kids know I'm there. I'm fair when I deal with them, but there are things I can do that teachers can't do. The teachers can only discipline them so much, and when they cross the line into breaking laws, that's where I come in. I try to answer their questions at school if they are on probation. Then I have parents coming in. We have a community council where you have the student and the parent meeting with community members. It's a step before the citation portion."
Gividen said the number of partner/family member assault cases have increased during his time in the valley.
"Back then we handled them differently," he said. "We just kind of mediated between the parties and helped them work it out. But now under law we are mandated to arrest somebody. If we don't we better have a good reason. Seems like there is a lot more animal calls than we used to. Everything increases as the population increases. Juvenile crime tends to increase as well."
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, the saying goes, and Gividen is in full agreement.
"I really do think that prevention is extremely important," he said. "If you get kids going in the right direction, then hopefully that will reflect on the community. You won't have the vandalism, the other crimes. There are a lot of positive things that come out of that. People have more pride in their community."
Current Ravalli County sheriff Chris Hoffman said that Gividen was a community oriented officer from the beginning.
"He has been able to affect a lot of lives in the schools, and a lot of lives in the community," Hoffman said. "And he has had a positive impact on our office here as well. Chuck is an institution in and of himself. He is a great person to have out in front of the community every day. In a job where most often we are exposed to the most negative aspects of the community, Chuck has managed to carve out a niche of being a force for positive change."
Gividen said his job has allowed him to develop relationships with all kinds of different people from different backgrounds.
"From working with people in the sheriff's department, the police departments, and the staff in the schools, I've worked with a lot of great people over the years," he said. "Even to this day I have former D.A.R.E. students who are now married with children of their own. Most of the time I won't recognize them but they recognize me. They say D.A.R.E. was a big help to them. They get pretty excited about it. I'm really thankful I was able to develop so many friends in all of the communities of Ravalli County."
Gividen will have a retirement party in the basement of the Ravalli County Courthouse this Friday from 5-7 p.m., and the public is welcome.
Reach reporter David Erickson at 363-3300 or firstname.lastname@example.org.