City approves agreement with housing authority for police services

City Commissioners approved a new community based policing agreement with the Great Falls Housing Authority during their Jan. 3 meeting.

The agreement between the city police department and the housing authority has been in place since the late 1980s, according to the city, and is updated periodically.

The item was on the consent agenda, but Commissioner Joe McKenney asked to pull it for further discussion.

Great Falls Police Department Chief Jeff Newton said the contract was being updated since there was a staffing change at GFPD, which impacted the salary.

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Newton said the former housing officer had been promoted and another officer had been assigned to the position, who is currently at a lower salary level, so it decreased the cost to the housing authority.

Of the agreement in general, McKenney said, “something about this that bothers me. Why do we need it?”

He said he had empathy for those living in the housing authority that may need a helping hand, but it’s not the only apartment or housing complex in the community.

“Why do we need to have a cop on hand,” McKenney asked.

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In the staff report, which is publicly available the Thursday before commission meetings, GFPD said the designated housing authority officer alleviates a “substantial” amount of calls that patrol officers would otherwise have to respond to, freeing those officers up to handle other calls.

“Historically, call loads were high until the housing authority officer was established,” according to the staff report.

Newton said during the meeting the housing authority is public housing, which is publicly funded, making it different than private housing complexes.

GFPD also provides police services through the school resource officer program with Great Falls Public Schools. The school district pays for those services.

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He said that the housing officer isn’t going in to bother people living there, but has historically been effective in working with housing authority staff to weed about bad apples such as those dealing drugs out of the authority units, and those causing other problems to “ensure whoever’s living there has a safe environment.”

Mayor Bob Kelly said that if private housing complexes wanted to pay for an officer, the city would be happy to provide one. Staff did not respond to the comment, but during the work session before the meeting that night, GFPD staff discussed their staffing shortages and eliminated programs due to that shortage with commissioners.

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Under the agreement, the housing authority funds one dedicated officer for enforcement and investigations within the housing authority properties. The officer also facilitates the youth activity center at the main housing complex, according to the Great Falls Police Department staff report.

The officer handles calls during their designated shift and patrol officers handle calls when the designated officer is off duty, according to the staff report.

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The Great Falls Housing Authority provides office space at the main complex for the officer.

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Under the agreement, the housing authority will pay the city $108,847 for the officer’s salary and benefits.

The contract begins Jan. 1 and runs through June 30 with an automatic six-month renewal based on the police union’s negotiated contract wage with the city.

In August, the Great Falls Housing Authority board voted not to renew their management agreement with the city effective Dec. 1.