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Missoula Police officers responded last year to what turned out to be a false  report of hostages being held in a downtown apartment. The Missoula City Council this week approved a budget that will fund three new officers, and six others were sworn in Tuesday.

The Missoula Police Department will receive three additional officers as part of the budget approved by the City Council just past 2:30 a.m. on Tuesday. 

The council had initially planned on paying for two additional officers, but Monday's protracted budget meeting saw a $150,000 paving condition survey put on hiatus in order to deliver one more badge to the city police force.

Those three will be added to the department in January.

Among a testy crowd contending the tax hike Monday night, MPD Detective Stacy Lear was looking for more funding to fill the department's request for three officers. Lear said she worked 273 hours of overtime in 2017 alone.

"That is seven weeks of additional work I did not want to do," she said. "I am already on par to exceed that this year. Our officers are quitting due to burnout. Our city is losing good officers because we can't keep working this long and this hard. We are forced to choose between being active parents to our children or working 60 to 80 hours per week."

Lear suggested adding that third officer would save the city money spent on training new officers after overworked ones leave. She noted the number of sworn officers at the department has not been proportional with the increase of Missoula's population since she was hired 12 years ago. 

The police department is currently authorized for 106 sworn officers, not including the additional three included in the city's new budget, according to Sgt. Travis Welsh, the department's public information officer. Vacancies in the department — some positions having opened in recent weeks, others since last winter — left the total number of sworn officers below 100 by the time of the contentious council meeting.

Eleven hours later, however, in the same room, Mayor John Engen swore in six new officers, bringing the total up to 105. They are Brandon Straw, Casey Harvey, Tyler Woods, Kilee Bartschi, Sean McLean and Kyle Ferris. 

Engen said he was "tickled we were able to get [the third officer] in an otherwise difficult budget year."

"It allows us to be more creative when we have manpower," Welsh said Tuesday of getting the department up to snuff. "It creates opportunities to deal with existing issues."

Welsh specifically mentioned Missoula's Westside, where residents say they've reached a tipping point with growing crime and drug use in their neighborhood, as an area where more officers can make a significant difference. More police means more proactive police work, he said. 

Bartschi, one of the newly minted officers and previously a volunteer for MPD, knows the department anticipates having her and the fellow rookies on board. She's set to head to the Montana Law Enforcement Academy in September, but Bartschi is already eager to see what she can do for the city. 

"I'm excited to give back to the community," she said. "As an officer it's something new every single day, new challenges every day. You know, we'll see what I'm made of."

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