City officials discuss crime, drugs

The city’s law enforcement and judicial officials discussed crime task force recommendations again during their May 3 meeting.

Among the recommendations included conversations about publishing case closure rates, sentencing and conviction rates.

Great Falls Police Chief Jeff Newton said that closure rates is a misnomer because cases are closed when arrests are made or when they are unable to continue an investigation due to lack of evidence, witnesses, or a number of other factors.

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For conviction rates, Newton said there a number of factors that go into the criminal justice system and how cases are handled.

“To say you’re effective or ineffective because of conviction rates is just impossible because there’s so much more that goes into that,” Newton told commissioners.

Earlier this spring, commissioners adopted a resolution asking the federal delegation to provide more public safety resources.

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City Manager Greg Doyon said during their May 3 work session that they had also sent a copy to the governor’s office and had no response from the federal or state offices.

That resolution asking for federal support was a crime task force recommendation.

Another recommendation was to explore the recreational marijuana tax revenue, but Doyon said city officials believe the county has to send that to the ballot and the county has indicated they don’t intend to pursue that. Doyon said they also don’t believe there would be substantial revenue for the city under current circumstances since recreational dispensaries are prohibited in the city limits.

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Doyon said they’re also working on scheduling a joint city-county-legislative discussion on the state laws affecting crime, law enforcement and the judicial system.

Commissioner Rick Tryon has requested that they find a way to publish sentencing and prosecution information.

The group spent time discussing that during the work session though the City Commission has no jurisdiction over the Municipal Court or District Court.

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Doyon said there’s not a good system to collect that information at this time and “if you ask me to go get software to do that, I quit.”

The city has been transitioning several software systems and having a number of issues with those systems in recent years.

Tryon said they could call the clerk of court at district court to get some of the information.

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The clerk’s office doesn’t compile that information in a systematic way and the clerk is a county elected position outside the city’s jurisdiction.

Municipal Judge Steve Bolstad told Tryon that there’s a lot of moving parts in District Court and the only way to get the information he’s seeking would be to go to court daily and watch proceedings or go through the case files, which are public, but only physically available at the courthouse.

“It’s just impossible to put together something that would make sense to you,” Bolstad told Tryon.

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He said the numbers wouldn’t be the full picture and that they have to consider sentencing guidelines, abilities to pay fines and more.

“The changes that have been made in the last two terms have not been real productive toward curbing crime,” Bolstad said.

Newton said that GFPD is working with Alluvion Heath for the mobile response team and have responded to more than 100 calls so far this year.

He said the agency received a $240,000 grant for that program but Alluvion was still looking to hire another person for that program.

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Bolstad said local mental and behavioral health professionals work with his mental health court and some of them are also part of the mobile response team.

But, the mental health court might change in the near future due to changes in the state public defender’s office, Bolstad said.

“There’s a lot of things that are in flux,” Bolstad said.

He told commissioners that he’s seeing increased cases with minors in possession of marijuana, which is still illegal.

This time last year, he said he had 14 MIPs, which included those with alcohol and marijuana. That was before the marijuana law changed.

This year, as of May 3, Bolstad said there were 37 MIPs, including alcohol and marijuana.

“There’s a significant amount of marijuana,” he said.

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The majority of them are getting caught with it at school by the GFPD officers assigned to the schools, he said.

During the May 3 work session, Stacy Zinn, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent in Montana, said that there’s they’re also seeing more young people experimenting with marijuana.

She said that even with legalization of recreational marijuana in Montana, she’s concerned there will be a black market regardless and that foreign entities are moving into to marijuana business in places that have legalized it.

Zinn said that after California legalized recreational marijuana, there are nearly 3,000 illegal marijuana businesses that have undercut the legal shops.

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Since the government taxes legal marijuana, she said others will offer it at a lower cost illegally.

Zinn said that the opioid crisis is also increasing even with the legalization of marijuana and those issues aren’t as connected as people think.

She told commissioners that the biggest current concerns are methamphetamines and fentanyl.

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Mayor Bob Kelly asked if she had seen any policies or procedures that had been effective in other areas in mitigating these threats.

Zinn said that she’s seen some states be aggressive in going after illegal operations but other states aren’t.

She said that when states work with the DEA to develop and enforce regulations, it can work.

The question she said, is will Montana uphold its laws.

“Right now it’s lacking,” she said.