Montana Governor to Improve Public Safety in Missoula

Gov. Gianforte, Local Leaders Partner to Improve Public Safety in Missoula County

MISSOULA,  MT (STL.News) Governor Greg Gianforte convened a roundtable with local officials and leaders to address efforts by state and local partners to improve public safety in Missoula County.

“Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in drug-related and violent crime nationwide, including here in Missoula County.  These crimes threaten public safety, leave victims and their families traumatized, and leave people wondering if they’re safe,” Gov. Gianforte said.  “Rather than sitting idly by, we’re taking action, bringing local leaders to the table to talk about the challenges we face and continue finding ways to improve public safety in our communities.”

In addition to the impact on victims and their families, the governor emphasized how crime drives down property values, drives up insurance premiums, prevents new businesses from opening, and forces existing businesses to close in the face of repeated thefts, violence in and around their location, and the loss of their customers.

Over the course of the pandemic, the city and county have seen a significant increase in drug-related and violent crime.  In 2017, 20 percent of Missoula County’s crime cases were violent crimes.  It climbed to 27 percent in 2020, and in 2021, 43 percent of Missoula County’s cases were violent crimes.

“It’s so important to look at the data and better spend our criminal justice dollars, and one of the things that is working are the treatment courts and our diversion programs,” Missoula County Attorney Kirsten Pabst said.  “It’s so important to work together and talk about things we can do better.  Roundtables like we had today can only push the needle in the right direction.”

At the roundtable, the governor asked participants what strategies are and aren’t working to combat crime.  He also asked how crime is impacting staffing and recruitment of law enforcement officers, how to best improve and expand drug treatment and diversion programs, and what local leaders need from the state to improve public safety.

“We’re seeing an uptick in methamphetamine and fentanyl related crimes, and that is driving the violence issue that we’re also having in the communities,” Missoula Police Chief Jaeson White said.  “It’s not going to be just one entity that solves the problem. It takes a group to do it.”

Recognizing the role drugs play with crime, Gov. Gianforte said,  “While there’s no silver bullet to end the drug epidemic, we’re taking steps to confront it.  By creating the Angel Initiative and HEART Fund, we’re providing Montanans battling addiction the tools they need to get clean, sober and healthy.”

“Addiction substance abuse disorders and gambling are chronic brain diseases, and we need to get at the root of that and look at the trauma underneath the behaviors that we see,” Stepping Stones Behavioral Health Services Executive Director Shari Rigg said.  “It’s important to bring everyone to the table so we can get to know each other which will bring more effective collaborations between each other.”

Participants joining the governor for the roundtable discussion included:  Montana Senators Ellie Boldman Shane Morigeau, Shannon O’Brien, and Diane Sands;  Montana Representative Mark Thane;  University of Montana President Seth Bodnar;  Missoula City Attorney Jim Nugent;  Missoula County Attorney Kirsten Pabst;  Missoula County Undersheriff Rich Maricelli;  Missoula Police Chief Jaeson White;  Missoula County Chief Administrative Officer Chris Lounsbury;  Missoula County Commissioner Josh Slotnick;  Department of Corrections Deputy Director Cynthia Wolken; Department of Corrections Probation and Parole Bureau Chief Kim Lahiff;  and Stepping Stones Behavioral Health Services Executive Director Shari Rigg.

In January, Gov. Gianforte convened a similar roundtable with local officials to address efforts by state and local partners to improve public safety in Billings and Yellowstone County.