Could it be that Missoula has at last made progress in its efforts to crack down on problems downtown?
If the figures shared at last week's Downtown Business Improvement District’s board of directors meeting are any indication, yes. And now that Missoula has hit upon a response that gets results, we should commit more resources to strengthening it. In fact, we should double it - by adding a second patrol officer dedicated specifically to the downtown area.
The single officer doing this work right now, the Downtown BID learned last week, has issued nearly 700 citations and warnings this year, and made exactly 63 arrests through September. The offenses ranged from eight incidents of public urination to seven acts of aggressive panhandling.
Of course, any regular visitor to the downtown area can tell you that these kinds of problems haven't been eliminated completely. However, it's become clear that having an officer assigned just to downtown, in conjunction with other programs, has certainly helped.
Missoula Police Chief Mike Brady told the board of directors of the Downtown BID that a lot of ongoing problems seem to be linked to the sale of tall cans of alcohol. In response, the board is looking at whether to partner with downtown businesses to restrict their sale.
That's probably not an especially beneficial approach. We're willing to bet that the vast majority of consumers who buy these tall cans are law-abiding, and not planning to consume their beverage downtown in any case. Restricting the sale of these particular items would probably just discourage consumers from shopping downtown while doing little to curb the problems caused by alcohol intoxication downtown.
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On the other hand, the board is also looking at the feasibility of adding a second patrol officer downtown - and this seems like a very good idea indeed.
Brady estimates a second officer could cost more than $90,000 in total. It's worth it, as downtown businesses are reporting a noticeable improvement in safety.
Currently the Downtown BID contracts with the city police department for its designated downtown officer, Andy Roy. All on his own, Roy has written citations or warnings for 135 open container violations, 29 for trespassing and 61 for pedestrian interference. All in all, he's handed out nearly 300 warnings and another nearly 400 citations so far this year.
Additionally, city police are working with other law enforcement agencies - the Missoula County Sheriff’s Department and the Office of Public Safety at the University of Montana - to provide a net of safety that extends beyond the immediate downtown area.
Nevertheless, Roy reports that he's reluctant to enter some particularly dangerous pockets on his own, and reinforcements aren't always available.
Let's give him the reinforcement he needs. Let's improve the safety of downtown Missoula for everyone - by calling for additional investment in a solution that's really working.