The desire for a more fulfilling career led Cory Clarke to the law enforcement field more than a decade ago and now he is the 2019 Montana Association of Chiefs of Police Montana Officer of the Year.
Clarke, a native of the Flathead Valley, was working at NorthWestern Energy when he started to think about doing something else. The job paid well, but Clarke wanted more professional challenges.
At the time, his two boys, Cameron and Drew, were playing on a youth baseball team coached by Wade Rademacher. Rademacher, who went on to serve as Kalispell police chief, was an officer with the Kalispell department at the time and urged Clarke to try police work.
Four years later, in 2012, Clarke was a patrolman with Kalispell Police Department and was also its crime-scene artist, owing to his degree in drafting from Montana State University Northern.
At that point, then-chief Roger Nasset approached Clarke about taking a turn at being a school resource officer. Clark, as some officers have been, initially was reluctant to do it.
But when the time came, Clarke decided to give it a shot.
Clarke, whose wife Brenda is principal at Bigfork Elementary School, has found his calling working with young people.
“I really enjoyed working with kids, counseling, teaching them right from wrong. It may sound cliche, but it is very meaningful,” Clarke said.
Clarke told a story about a conversation he had a few years ago with Flathead County Commissioner Phil Mitchell.
“He said ‘it’s not the schools’ job to feed and take care of kids and I told him that nothing could be further from the truth.’”
Clarke said for many students, school is the only safe place they have to go, especially when life at home is difficult.
“It’s been refreshing to work with different people in the schools, teachers, counselors, who are working to help the kids stay in a good place,” Clarke said.
The schedule has also been good for him as his kids have grown older.
“The work day is like the school day, I’m not working too many nights or weekends, so that’s been a major plus for us,” Clarke said.
Clarke is also involved in traditional police work. He is a member of the Major Crime Unit and is also a field training officer.
After five years as the school resource officer at Flathead High School, he moved on to become the College Resource Officer at Flathead Valley Community College.
“It’s been a different perspective and I do miss the counseling, but we’ve been able to be more proactive, developing a Behavior Intervention Program Team to help the students deal with whatever issue they may be dealing with,” Clarke said.
Clarke designed the college’s surveillance system and he’s led the “Run, Lock, Fight” active-shooter training program.
He’s also enjoyed a bit of fame, too. Clarke was the lead Kalispell Police investigator in the Jordan Linn Graham murder case in 2013. Graham was convicted of pushing her husband, 25-year-old Cody Johnson, to his death in Glacier National Park.
Clarke worked with federal agents from the FBI and National Park Service on the case and that led to his involvement in television shows such as Lifetime’s “Snapped” and Investigation Discovery’s “Grave Secrets.”
“That was certainly the most memorable time of my career,” Clarke said.
Kalispell Police Department Investigations Captain Jim Wardensky nominated Clarke for the award.
“I had been nominated before and didn’t get it,” Clarke said. “When he asked me to list my credentials and what I’ve done with the department I just thought it was for some department award.”
Kalispell Police Chief Doug Overman spoke at the awards ceremony, saying, “Officer Cory Clarke embodies the desired qualities expected in a police officer in that he is honest, loyal, trustworthy, ethical, compassionate, practices self-sacrifice for the benefit of others, exhibits sound judgment, and rises to a challenge. Officer Clarke has a realistic view of people and the world. His kindness and sympathy does not stem from naiveté. Officer Clarke has a warrior’s spirit and a servant’s heart.”
He has been engaged with several nonprofit and community-based programs over the years, including the Flathead Human Trafficking Task Force, Safe Kids Safe Communities, Flathead Child Protection Team, STOP Prescription Drug Abuse Coalition, Juvenile Justice Reform Partnership, Alcohol Enforcement Team, Tip a Cop, Junior Police Leadership Academy, Special Olympics, Montana Veterans Advisory Committee (FVCC), Behavior Intervention Team (FVCC) and the Northwest Montana Run Lock Fight Group, training nearly 2,600 teachers and staff regionally.
Within the Kalispell Police Department, Clarke is known as “Multi-tool” because of his adaptability.
According to information from the department, it has tasked Clarke with a far-ranging spectrum of duties, knowing he will always produce high-quality work in an efficient manner. Some of these undertakings are outside of Clarke’s normal range of responsibilities, yet in his continually positive fashion, he conducts business with his typical high level of success.
“Officer Clarke is quick to help others both within and outside of the department. Officer Clarke’s humor and positivity are contagious, which make him fun to work with and merely be around,” Overman said. “Officer Clarke conducts himself with dignity and commands the respect deserved by an officer of such a lofty caliber.”
Clarke has become an adjunct professor at the college, teaching criminology. He said he wants to get his master’s degree at some point and teach the subject full time.
Clarke said he is proud of the award.
“I had been nominated for it once before and when I learned I had won this time, I felt a rush of adrenaline,” Clarke said. “When you think of all the awesome officers and what they’re doing in our state, it’s a massive honor.”
Reporter Scott Shindledecker may be reached at 758-4441 or firstname.lastname@example.org.