CCSO rolling out community deputy program

Cascade County Sheriff Jesse Slaughter is rolling out a community resource deputy program in the fall.

The program is a modified version of his original plan for armed, undercover civilians in the rural schools that had some community pushback.

Slaughter said County Commissioners suggested having school resource officers for each community, but he said that was expensive and involved more logistically.

CCSO had a school resource officer for all seven rural schools, but due to the geographic size of the county, it wasn’t as effective and not predictable for scheduling.

Slaughter said he considered having three SROs, but didn’t think that would be enough work for a sole duty position.

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So, he created a hybrid with the community resource deputies who will spend the majority of their time in schools and follow the academic calendar for scheduling, but will also respond to calls within the community.

He said that makes the job more attractive to deputies and then deputies are familiar with the community and know of any threats or risks that could exist in the area.

One community resource deputy will be based in Cascade and also cover Ulm, the second is based in Belt and will cover Centerville, and the third will cover Vaughn, Fort Shaw and Simms.

CCSO already has a contract with the towns of Belt and Cascade for law enforcement services.

Belt purchased a house for their resident deputy a few years ago and so their contract for services is reduced by $20,000 annually until the housing is paid off.

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In mid-June, county commissioners approved updated contracts with the towns of Belt and Cascade for law enforcement services.

Belt’s cost for the current fiscal year, which runs July 1 through June 30, 2024 is $48,470.70.

Cascade’s cost for the current fiscal year is $68,462.38.

If the Town of Cascade purchases or provides housing for the community resource deputy, Slaughter said they’d adjust the contract to reduce the cost for law enforcement services.

There isn’t a contract for services in the Sun River Valley and housing will be more challenging since there’s no municipal government in that area.

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There hasn’t been a vote or contract with the town or school board in Cascade yet regarding deputy housing, but Slaughter held a town hall there at the end of June about the program and said he’s been discussing options with the town officials.

One deputy salary is being paid with levy funds starting in January, the others are being paid through the normal budget, Slaughter said.

He said he’ll monitor funding and potentially fund a second deputy through the levy.

Slaughter said the three community resource deputies have already been selected and will start a national SRO training program at the end of July.

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The program will start Sept. 1, Slaughter said, and all three are sworn full-time deputies at CCSO.

During the school year, the community resource deputies will work with the CCSO’s intel offer, address structural school security and train school staff on emergency responses.

The deputies will investigate any crime or issues within the schools, any threats to schools and respond to any emergencies at the schools in their areas or the surrounding communities.

There will be an undercover element in that they won’t wear a deputy uniform and a marked car won’t be parked in front of schools so any potential bad actors won’t know whether a deputy is in a school or not, Slaughter said.

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He’s also planning to build a training budget to conduct biannual training with the deputies, school staff and other agencies on responding to school emergencies; and he wants to establish a rescue task force program with the deputies, school staff and rural fire departments.

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He said having deputies based in the rural communities is logistically good, reduces contract costs for the communities that provide housing and they own the home that they can use for something else if they don’t want a resident deputy in the future.

It also reduces travel costs and wear and tear on patrol vehicles for CCSO. Reduced travel means quicker response times, Slaughter said.

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He said CCSO is implementing the program regardless of whether the town provides housing because he believes schools and children “have to be protected.”

In late June, commissioners also approved the Emergent 3, or E3, service agreement for CCSO.

It’s a smart phone app that’s part of the CCSO school safety initiative and will officer real-time communication through desktop and mobile devices to improve emergency responses in rural schools.

The agreement has a $3,000 onboarding and one-time set up fee, plus $5,000 annually.