To the tune of jingling spurs, sunlight glints off a golden badge as a commanding figure steps into the frame; the dusty roustabouts in the saloon quiet down, the shifty horse thieves slink back into the shadows. Who — in the untamed fringes of the frontier — can bring such a sense of order? The sheriff, of course.
Sheriff Matt Carr is quick to point out that while his job as the real-life sheriff of Teton County is far from the glamorous portrayals on the silver screen, there are plenty of ways in which his role echoes the earliest days of law enforcement in the West. “We drive cars now, we don’t ride horses,” he says with a chuckle. “Whether that’s good or bad, I’m not totally sure.
“We don’t round up posses like we used to years ago,” he adds. “We have a full-time staff, and we have worked hard to increase our professionalism over the past decades, too.” Matt recalls when he joined the Teton County Sheriff’s Office in 1999, the organization had only just begun a 24-hour patrol program. Today, Matt and his deputies keep the county patrolled 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and they’re equipped with far more sophisticated technology and skills than a sure-footed pony and a six-shooter.
At the core of their efforts, the job description hasn’t changed too much: keeping peace throughout the county. “There’s a lot of responsibility to this job. The people have chosen you to keep them safe.” The sheriff is an elected position, which means that just like the townsfolk of yesteryear, locals get to decide who will wear the badge.
Keeping locals and visitors safe includes managing Search and Rescue: one of the constellation of statute-defined obligations of the sheriff. With the amount of adventure-seeking backcountry users around Jackson Hole, overseeing the service is no small task. “Demand for those services has skyrocketed, and (Search & Rescue) has developed into a very professional organization,” Matt observes. “It’s something that’s on my plate on nearly a daily basis.”
Also on Matt’s daily list of responsibilities? Just like in the Old West, his office is tasked with managing the Teton County Jail.
The facility, however, is far from the dusty cabin with barred windows that houses the cattle rustlers of old. Matt recalls that in past decades, the 44-bed detention center was often at full capacity. He’s proud to note that those numbers have fallen sharply in past years. “Our numbers are way down,” he says. “That’s largely due to the success of programs that have been put into place to manage behavior without keeping folks incarcerated.” The county has implemented more robust probationary programs, a round-the-clock sobriety program that keeps defendants free during court process and more, translating into far less reliance on the jail.
Glamor of tall tales aside, Matt acknowledges that sometimes the demands of his job require a similar sense of creativity, resourcefulness and determination as legendary on-screen sheriffs. “I’m a big fan of the Lonesome Dove crew,” he admits with a grin. “There’s still a little bit of that Wild West here, and sometimes it’s just about getting the job done. The public trusts us to get the job done, and that’s what we have to do. And sometimes it gets a little Western out there.”