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Bandon questions investigation of police chief

BANDON ' The case of this small town's police chief moonlighting as an illegal hunting guide has city leaders asking why state police would spend thousands of dollars chasing a self-described Andy of Mayberry for what they see as petty wildlife violations.

Bandon police Chief Bob McBride was charged this week on 10 misdemeanors alleging that he, among other things, ran an unlicensed hunting-guide service and illegally used trained hounds to hunt a cougar.

The charges stem from an Oregon State Police undercover investigation during which two agents posed as would-be poachers and captured McBride taking part in, or freely discussing, wildlife violations ' and even using city-owned equipment during the illegal expeditions, according to police affidavits.

McBride, who likens himself to Andy Griffith's character on Mayberry RFD, says his fault lies within his own ignorance of wildlife laws and a soft-spot for helping people.

It sort of follows what I've done my whole entire life ' help people, McBride says. They came to me and asked me to take them hunting. I had no clue I wasn't allowed to take those guys hunting.

Bandon Mayor Brian Vick says the case amounts to police spending far too much time and money to attack McBride, who Vick calls one of Bandon's most popular people. And it comes while the budget-plagued OSP is simultaneously saying it must cut back investigating serious crimes.

He clearly screwed up, in terms of not being aware of the game laws, Vick says. (But) they've spent tens of thousands of dollars investigating this thing. It seems like tremendous overkill.

I'm not going to call it abuse of power, Vick says, but that's as close as you can get to it.

That notion bristles Capt. Cynthia Kok, head of the OSP's Fish and Wildlife Division who also supervises the division's Special Investigations Unit, which targeted and investigated McBride.

Kok admits that the investigation cost in the thousands of dollars, but focusing on the cost over McBride's admitted crimes misses the point ' a police officer broke wildlife and guiding laws that he is responsible for following, just like everyone else who hunts or guides in Oregon.

It doesn't change the facts of what he did, Kok says. Frankly, what's the right price? I don't think you should put a pricetag on what an investigation should or shouldn't cost.

Bandon's support of McBride befuddles Kok.

I guess, Kok says, that they'll put up with anything.

The case began in October 2001 when undercover officers investigating an illegal fishing guide in Coos County were asked if they wanted to hire McBride for what amounted to an illegal bobcat hunt, police affidavits state.

The officers booked a hunt with McBride, who admitted to being unlicensed and talked freely about being Bandon's chief, affidavits state. McBride also offered to let one of the officers shoot a bobcat and illegally record it on McBride's harvest card, police say.

McBride also guided one of the undercover officers on an illegal cougar hunt last January with tracking hounds ' a violation of 1994's hound-hunting ban.

The trip failed to tree a cougar, but the investigation led to the state Department of Justice overseeing the case against McBride.

McBride became a cop turned defendant Monday when he was arraigned in a Coos County court then booked into the Coos County Jail before being released.

That was probably the worst day of my life, says McBride, Bandon's chief since 1998.

I've helped people in public service for 30 years, he says. Being hauled into court then taken to jail and booked was a horrible thing.

If convicted on all charges, he faces as much as nine years in jail and close to &

36;5,000 in fines.

McBride says he was offered a plea agreement from state prosecutors, but he would not risk losing his job by accepting a &

36;5,000 fine and probation but no jail time.

Vick, who is the outgoing mayor, says he and his fellow townspeople strongly back McBride.

It's like they're not only trying to sully his reputation, but also go after his certification as a police officer, Vick says.

The OSP's Kok says McBride shouldn't get a free pass simply because he's a well-liked cop in a small town.

We have to look at our elected and appointed officials with a critical eye, Kok says. They're supposed to live their lives at a higher standard than the regular person on the street.

As for McBride, he plans to plead innocent when he appears in court for a hearing Feb. 10.

My community has come out in droves to support me, McBride says. They know what Bob is all about ' helping people.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail