GFPD facing staffing shortage, temporarily dissolving BRIC officer, changing shift schedules

The Great Falls Police Department is facing a staffing shortage and Monday morning, Chief Dave Bowen briefed City Commissioners on changes they’re making to address those shortages in the near-term.

Currently, the GFPD is short 11 sworn officers and four civilians due to retirements, other job opportunities, unable to make probation, being elected sheriff/undersheriff, modified duty/injuries and military deployments.
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“I’m down to pulling folks to core functions,” Bowen told commissioners.

The positions currently affected include:

  • 1 school resource officer, which cannot be vacant for more than two weeks per the contract with the school district
  • 1 special victims unit
  • 2 narcotics detectives
  • 1 Internet Crimes Against Children detective
  • 1 detective supervisor
  • 2 patrol
  • 1 patrol officer who recently suffered a broken finger from a suspect
  • 2 new officers at currently at the academy but won’t be available on the street until April
  • 1 community service officer-accident investigator
  • 2 dispatchers (potentially more in the near future)
  • 1 property technician

Bowen is temporarily dissolving the Business Residential Involving Community, or BRIC, position and assigning an officer to the SRO vacancy being created by Cory Reeves moving to the Cascade County Sheriff’s Office with Jesse Slaughter.
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To fill some of the void of the BRIC position, currently held by Officer Adam Hunt, Bowen said he will have patrol officers patrolling the DDACTS area, which is largely the downtown core, when they have some free time.

“It’s not ideal, but it’s what we kind of have to do right now,” Bowen said.

Bowen said he’s also working to hire a temporary civilian service officer, or traffic accident investigator, for the next 10 months while the current employee is on a military deployment.

The accident investigators lighten some of the patrol bureau’s load, Bowen said, so that patrol officers don’t spend as much of their time responding to vehicle crashes and instead can focus on other issues and preventative work if they get time during their shifts.

Two people are currently at the law enforcement academy and graduate Friday, but they then have roughly six months of localized training before they’re available to patrol the streets on their own, Bowen said.

GFPD was hoping to get a grant to create a mental health officer to help address some of those community needs, but that funding did not come through, Bowen said Monday.
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He’s not planning to fill the other detective positions until those new officers have completed their training phase since that could create movement within the department and Bowen said he needs officers on the streets.

A few years ago, Bowen requested an additional ICAC officer, which Commissioners approved in the budget. But that position is currently vacant since one detective took a position with the state.

Bowen said he feels bad having requested that position and not being able to fill it currently, but that he can’t backfill it with the officers he needs on the street.

The department is also preparing to make a major change in their shifts, moving to a 10 hour, 40 minute shift starting on a trial basis in January.

GFPD officials crunched their data and found that their current shift structure didn’t match up well with the call volumes that were occurring at certain times of the day.

Officials at GFPD met with the police union since the change was outside their collective bargaining agreement and the union also helped develop the new shift structure, Bowen said.

“I have no idea how this is gonna work,” he said, but they’re going to try it and monitor results closely. If it doesn’t work, Bowen said they’ll likely go back to an 8-hour shift cycle that will allow more flexibility in callbacks if needed.

Bowen said he is concerned about dispatch and if the new shift structure overloads the city dispatcher at certain times. Typically, the county dispatcher picks up the overflow during surges, but since the county is paying a significant chunk of change for their dispatch position, Bowen said it wouldn’t be right to use a county resource to handle a city problem.

Bowen said he’ll be monitoring that situation and if it becomes too much, will look at adding another city dispatch position.

“Something has to give,” Bowen told commissioners.

Bowen has requested additional officer positions and other resources each budget year for at least the last five years, few of which have been funded.

“I don’t have any other options,” Bowen said. “The reality is I’m kinda at critical mass here.”

The number of qualified applicants has also been trending down over recent years, a similar issue for the sheriff’s office and the fire department.

Officer involved shootings also take patrol officers off the street for about 30 days and those positions are backfilled by detectives and officers in other jobs, pinching their resources, Bowen said.

In an effort to develop a budget that will be capable of funding more public safety needs, City Manager Greg Doyon said they’re making changes now to deal with the Natatorium and the golf fund, among other issues that are limiting the city’s financial flexibility. Some of those are being addressed currently, but it will likely still require a publicly voted levy to fund the amount of needed public safety resources, Doyon said.
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Bowen also told commissioners that he’s expecting a report on the state of the city’s radio communication infrastructure within the next 10 days and anticipates that decisions will need to be made to replace the equipment within the next 18 months to two years, which will likely cost more than $1 million.