Forcing Missoula police officers to live within city limits will hurt the chances of having more women in leadership ranks on the force.
That’s one argument Missoula Police Department Detective Stacy Lear made Monday to the City Council on a proposed residency requirement. She reminded the council it has wanted to strengthen the number of women on the police force, but just one of the department’s 30 supervisors is a woman.
“She is the only female officer even eligible to become the chief of police in our department. And she lives in the county,” Lear said.
She also said the requirement wouldn’t be easy for midcareer officers to confront. When police change jobs, they start over at the bottom no matter their experience.
“It’s not as simple as just saying you could always take another job,” said Lear, who does live in the city.
At its regular meeting, the council set a public hearing for Feb. 25 on the proposal that top city officials be required to live within city limits. As written, the ordinance would apply only to new hires for top posts; it would grandfather in current department heads, as well as the assistant police and fire chiefs, who are in line for promotions.
Councilwoman Cynthia Wolken presented the ordinance, and it has sparked much debate. Councilman Adam Hertz said he isn’t sure whether he supports it, but he definitely wants to hear from members of the public.
“I’m amazed by how much interest the public has shown in this already,” Hertz said.
In general, Councilwoman Caitlin Copple said she likes the requirement, and she said she is concerned that neither the police chief nor the fire chief supports the idea of living in the city when it’s their job to tend to quality of life in the city.
“That seems to be a problem to me,” Copple said.
At the meeting, the council also voted to oppose House Bill 419 as written to revise recall laws. The bill, by Rep. Champ Edmunds, R-Missoula, would make certain public officials, including city council members, subject to recall for poor attendance.
Councilman Jason Wiener said people can be recalled for committing felonies and taking bribes, and a councilor’s attendance record doesn’t rise to the same level.
Hertz, though, said the measure is aimed at precinct committee representatives. He agreed “100 percent” it should not cover city councilors, and the majority voted to oppose the bill’s application to aldermen and alderwomen.