GFPD adding resources for violent crimes, drugs

In creating the Data-Driven Approaches to Crime and Traffic Safety zone downtown and the Directed Enforcement Team focused on 10th Avenue South, Great Falls Police Chief David Bowen said he took a calculated risk.

Bowen told City Commissioners during their “State of the City” work session on Feb. 9 that he’s taking another calculated risk in creating a Violent Crime Task Force that will be a partnership with the U.S. Marshals Service.

Bowen told The Electric that a memorandum of understanding with the Marshals will go to commissioners Feb. 20 for approval.

There are 5,000 outstanding warrants issued by GFPD and of those, 1,500 are felony warrants, Bowen said.

The Violent Crime Task Force will focus on picking up those 1,500 wanted felons in the city, Bowen said.

He’s also upped efforts for the Russell Country Drug Task Force and has secured two full-time U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents and one from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to join the group.

Bowen said there hasn’t been a DEA presence in Great Falls for 25 years.

The slots have been allocated, Bowen said, but he’s waiting on federal funding to finalize the added positions. That could take time, but Bowen said he’s hopeful it’s sooner rather than later.

Bowen told The Electric that those agreements with federal agencies don’t require the city to provide any funding.

During the meeting, City Manager Greg Doyon said that if the park district is approved, it could alleviate strain on the general fund, allowing more funds to be put toward public safety and potentially fulfill Bowen’s request of six new officers and GFFR’s request for six additional firefighters.

Those 12 positions equate to more than $872,000 the first year they’re added and every year thereafter, according to Doyon’s budget presentation last summer.

“Support of that park district is going to help us address public safety needs in the future,” Doyon said.

City budget proposal impacted by legislative actions, cuts

For some perspective, the total cost for fire and police in the general fund for this year’s budget is $21.19 million.

The total projected revenue from property taxes in the general fund is $18.68 million.

The DDACTS and DET projects have had some successes, Bowen told commissioners.

From May to November 2017, the DET conducted 264 hours of high visibility enforcement and issued 307 citations in the DDACTS zone.

The team made 119 arrests and issued 16 DUI charges, some of those were in the DDACTS zone.

Early results show Directed Enforcement Team reducing crashes on 10th Avenue South

Within the DDACTS zone, according to GFPD data from 2012-2017, assaults are down 20 percent, vehicle crashes are down 8.5 percent, disorderly conduct is down 39.5 percent, theft is down 38.5 percent and juvenile complaints are down 8 percent.

On 10th Avenue South, the DET issued 1,229 citations plus 448 cell phone citations. Crashes were down 13 percent over the previous year, Bowen said.

GFPD conducting “high visibility enforcement” on 10th Avenue South

But some violent crime is increasing.

Over the last year, Bowen said there had been six homicides, three officer involved shootings and 29 pounds of meth seized.

“The challenges are many,” Bowen said. “But we’re up for the task.”

The department, along with Great Falls Fire Rescue and Great Falls Emergency Services, is seeing an increased demand on mental health services.

From June-November 2015, the Juvenile Detention Center reported more than 80 percent of youth exhibited mental health issues with the majority on prescribed psychotropic medication.

According to Bowen’s presentation, the Cascade County Detention Center reports that more than half of people entering the facility have a contributing behavioral issue.

In 2016, GFES transported up to 500 people with primary behavioral issues and another 400 with secondary behavioral issues, according to Bowen’s presentation, and GFES told Bowen that there were about another 200 people with behavioral issues who weren’t transported.

GFPD has partnered with the Center for Mental Health to create a Crisis Response Team and since November, the service has been used 10 times, including after houses responses with successful outcomes, Bowen said. The CRT is a collaborative effort to improve the response and treatment of those in a mental crisis. The team includes mental health professionals who are on call after hours and will respond to a scene when requested by law enforcement.

The partnership is a “tremendous benefit,” Bowen said. “My folks are trained in a lot of things, but they aren’t mental health professionals.”