The Missoula Police Department presented the City Council with its wish list for new officers, staff and supplies Wednesday as the city works toward completing its budget for the next year.
Mayor John Engen and city staff have requested a slew of new employees to keep up with growing population, construction and the borders of city limits. The police department presentation accounts for one of the largest increases in new personnel requested.
In his budget request to City Council for the next fiscal year, Engen wrote in support of hiring a total of six new police officers, and MPD Chief Mike Brady requested an additional two office staff members.
Among the requests for supplies was a $9,000 increase in ammunition funding. The increase comes from more officers taking advantage of target practice opportunities allowed to them, according to Assistant Police Chief Scott Hoffman.
“Based on our contract with the (Montana Police Protective Association), we’re required to give up 100 duty rounds for practice,” Hoffman told the Council. “We’ve seen an increase in officers taking those additional rounds which has put our budget for ammunition in the hole.”
The city limits grew considerably in the past year, adding more than 3,000 acres in one annexation west of town. Generally located around the airport, Canyon Creek neighborhood and DeSmet School District, the growth created a need for more patrol officers, according to a report from the police department presented Wednesday.
That annexed area accounts for about a 1.2-square-mile increase in residential properties being served by Missoula Police Department, in addition to businesses, motels and the airport, according to the police memo.
Other annexed property on the fringes of Missoula, including areas around Third Street west of Reserve and the Linda Vista neighborhood, have suffered from long response times. In addition to the distance from Missoula’s urban core, Brady said the department had estimated an additional 1,000 calls for police service from the annexed areas. That number is on track to be exceeded based on the number of calls so far this year, he told the council.
Last year, the police department also requested six new officers. A compromise settled on three that year, with the plan to add another three this year. Those three were built into the mayor’s proposed budget, while MPD requested another three to make up for annexation.
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The request for the additional three officers to cover annexed areas included requests for the uniforms, weapons and equipment to outfit them, including two new patrol cars, bringing the total addition to the 2020 budget to almost $496,000. Of that, about $370,000 would be recurring yearly costs.
The two additional staff requested are to aid with records maintenance and working on the dispatch desk.
Council President Bryan von Lossberg asked Brady if the police department has considered hiring police officers with backgrounds in social work or related fields that could better respond to mental health, homelessness or addiction-related emergencies.
Brady noted in his response that mental health-related calls for service had increased by 63% between 2015 and 2018, growing from 467 to 760 calls.
One way MPD is working to better respond to those types of calls, Brady said, was to partner with the University of Montana School of Social Work. A graduate student intern will spend 15 to 20 hours a week working with the officer assigned to the Downtown Business Improvement District.
Brady also said the department's portable radio systems were becoming outdated, which puts officers in danger. The cost to bring the system up to snuff would be over $100,000.
"We're having 911 unable to copy radio traffic, we have officers unable to hear each other, and it's reached a critical point where we need to address it," Brady said.
That request is expected to come in at a later date.