Great Falls Crime Task Force discusses priorities for recommendations to the city

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Members of the Great Falls Crime Task Force began a discussion on what they would like to see in the final recommendation to the city board at their meeting on Monday evening.

After listening to several presentations from various perspectives on the criminal justice system throughout the summer, task force members summarized the purpose of their recommendation into four groups:

  • partnerships and collaborations
  • provide resources to the criminal justice system
  • educate the public
  • consequences of criminal activity

City Development Coordinator Mark Willmarth helped liven up the conversation and encouraged the group to focus on ‘buckets’ that could help them come up with more specific recommendations at a future meeting. He asked each member of the working group to voice their top priorities and eventually the group landed on the consensus of the four buckets.

Partnerships and collaborations

Victim Witness Protection executive director Nichole Griffith said victim services received no state funding and that this was an area of ​​criminal justice that had been overlooked in the task force’s conversations so far. .

“We keep talking about you know the police department figures have shown that there is usually a victim of a crime attached to it and we want to make sure that there are services available for them as well,” Griffith said.

District Court Judge John Parker agreed with Griffith that this should be a focus of the task force in its recommendations.

“There could be a guy who was a little kid, and they’re in court one day as a victim of a crime, then 20 years later they’re on the hill, and they’re charged with a number of crimes, ”Parker says. “If they don’t benefit from this procedure while they are suffering from a tremendous trauma, then we wonder why they are back there breaking into someone’s house 20 years later. If we can’t make that connection, we are just lying to ourselves. And if we don’t focus on that and put that on the table, we are missing out on a huge opportunity. “

Parker said he wanted to see victim services as one of the “big four.”

City prosecutor Sara Sexe suggested victim services, which she considered very important, be included in partnerships and collaborations.

Sex also mentioned the crisis intervention program managed by Alluvion Health as an example of an existing partnership that should be used. the program works to coordinate mental health services between law enforcement and justice stakeholders.

“I think this will be a really good way for the community to work to try and address some of the mental health issues that are affecting the increase in crime that we have,” Sex said.

Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Shane Etzwiler said he would like to leverage neighborhood councils for educational purposes as well as revamping the Neighborhood Watch program.

“Criminals need to know that everyone is watching and they will report the things they see,” Etwiler said.

City Commissioner Rick Tryon and ex officio member of the task force said he did not want the recommendation “to go to areas that are really beyond the jurisdiction of the City of Great Falls”, echoing a sentiment the he expressed since the first meeting of the working group. .

“We’ve made this mistake before where you end up trying too hard and then you end up doing nothing at all,” Tryon said.

Tryon said services like mental health and victim services would very logically come under partnerships and resources.

“A lot of people are working on a lot of social issues in our community, so the partnership becomes important,” Willmarth said.

Great Falls Crime Task Force: Memory of local judges, receives police budget breakdown

Resources for the justice system

Staff shortages were one of the main concerns for presenters from the justice, penal and legal sectors.

President Sandra Guynn said Montana has two postal inspectors, which she says is not close enough for drugs to pass through the system without being intercepted.

“Maybe with the city, we could recommend that there be a letter or a resolution to the federal government, that we have another postal inspector, or something, to help better control what’s going on in the city. the postal system, ”Guynn said.

Police Chief Jeff Newton stressed the need for “boots on the ground”. He said his ministry was applying for grants like a police hiring grant, but said it also took time to train new recruits.

“The two big ones for us are people and money,” Newton said. “That’s what it comes down to.”

Newton’s third priority was public education.

Educate the public

City Attorney Sex said educating the public was its top priority and said she would like to see some of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) funds that are less restricted than plan dollars. rescue fund, be dedicated to hiring a public relations person or company to help spread the word.

Gender also suggested that educating the community on why Great Falls has problems with crime could lead to public support for a potential public safety tax proposal.

Newton said his department is still looking to fill the Public Information Officer position after Captain Doug Otto’s recent promotion. He said his department was on social media, but there was more it could do.

Common sense practices recommended by Newton could be communicated in the short term, such as locking your door.

“Especially during hunting season, don’t leave your rifle in your rack in your van,” Newton said. “Unfortunately, sometimes you just can’t communicate with everyone, but even though we can double that, I think it’s huge.”

Indian Education Director for Great Falls Public Schools Dugan Coburn suggested that potential PSAs be broadcast through all different media, including radio, television and online. This was Dugan’s second meeting as a task force member as he replaced Mary Lynne Billy of the Indian Family Health Clinic, who resigned in June.

Consequences for criminal activity

The app was highlighted by many members of the task force, Gender saying: “We can have all the rules in the world, but if you don’t have people to enforce them, they have no consequences.”

One of the suggestions was to increase the consequences of early infractions, Guynn asking, “What happened to the truant officers?” ”

Judge Parker responded that, in his experience, juries are unwilling to hold someone responsible for absenteeism if it is a minor.

“Until 12 citizens on a jury approve the evidence is at this level. You can want it whatever you want, it’s not going anywhere, ”Parker said. “And it’s a matter of societal consensus.”

Parker also responded to the suggestion of increasing the consequences of misdemeanors and said it was a matter for the legislature and had been the subject of much debate in previous sessions.

“The trend for the last few years has been decriminalization at the crime level, so whatever you decide you might want to go back to the recent history of those who make the laws we have sworn to follow,” Parker said. .

Parker stressed throughout the meeting that his highest priority for the recommendation was for pre-trial services, which would involve supervised pre-trial release to reduce prison overcrowding. He described it as a “Montana model,” as it is currently being implemented in Lewis and Clark counties.

The overcrowding of the adult detention center has been a major topic of conversation in past meetings and Parker has advocated that it could help alleviate some of the population.

In Lewis and Clark County in 2020, 86% reached all of their court dates in 2020 according to Criminal Services Director Kellie McBride. She said it was tied nationally in 2020 and compared to 70% reached their court date without the program.

McBride said in his presentation two weeks earlier that the legislature would consider Cascade County as part of the pilot program in the next session.

Cascade County Sheriff Jesse Slaughter, who was not present at this meeting, expressed hesitation at the previous meeting regarding the rehabilitation services. He expressed hesitation over what was touted as additional funding potential for this program in counties with high compliance with guidelines for determining risk factors.

Parker said it would not be as worrying, but he stressed that there will have to be collaboration between the city and the county for a program of this nature to work, especially when it comes to its funding.

Towards the end of the meeting, Etzwiler said he would like to know who isn’t already at the table who should be. Griffith said she would like to see United Way again as they attend the first meeting and support many of the causes discussed by the task force.

Willmarth has asked the task force in the meantime to focus on the details they want to see come from those general themes that have been agreed and to think about explanations of why they would be important to the community.

The working group will meet again on August 23 at 4:00 p.m. in the Gibson Room. The final recommendation must be sent to the municipal commission in September.

Nicole Girten is a government watch reporter for the Great Falls Tribune. You can email him at [email protected] To support coverage of Great Falls and Cascade County, subscribe to the Tribune by clicking the “Subscribe” link at the top of the page.


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