The Committee of Public Safety Solutions (COPSS), formerly known as the Law Enforcement Expansion (LEE) Committee, was formed in September 2021 to address concerns regarding rising crime in the city of Cut Bank as well as the insufficient staffing of the city’s police department as compared to the incredibly high crime rate. To date, the committee has met four times, and members of the public have attended to participate in the discussion. COPSS welcomes continued engagement by the public in our meetings, and we will be submitting articles to expand the discussion as well as address various questions and claims from the public.
We’d like to start by defining the problem and share the alarming quantity of calls, arrests, and felonies that our town is experiencing.
The problem facing the city of Cut Bank is two-fold; crime is rising in quantity and intensity, and the city police department is insufficiently manned, even at full staffing, to adequately address the significant increase in crime.
COPSS aims to provide sufficient Police coverage to (1) keep the citizens of Cut Bank safe, (2) be proactive in preventing crime, (3) produce timely reports to ensure successful prosecution of criminals, and (4) ensure that individual officers are not sent into harm’s way without sufficient back-up.
Many citizens ask about pulling in reinforcements from outlying agencies such as the Sheriff and Border Patrol. COPPS meetings have discussed this in length. We will address in future articles why, although seemingly reasonable, these ideas are not feasible.
We face a unique challenge when it comes to law enforcement here in Cut Bank. Funding for police departments comes primarily from local taxes, which is mostly affected by a city’s population. The tax base for Cut Bank allows for seven police officers. We have a current staff of just five. Our crime statistics, however, place us in the same range of cities double our size who have significantly larger police forces.
According to the National Incident Based Reporting System (NIBRS), Cut Bank’s 36 violent crimes in 2019 are higher than those of Columbia Falls (11), Miles City (22), Laurel (28), and Belgrade (35). In comparison to Cut Bank’s budgeted staff of seven officers, Columbia Falls has 10 officers, Miles City has 18, Laurel 14, and Belgrade 23. The extreme levels of crime in our town require more officers than our tax base currently supports.
The Cut Bank Police Department made 476 arrests in 2020, up from 359 in 2019. NIBRS has not yet released 2020 data, but with an increase of 116 arrests, figures are projected to be much higher.
In 2021 we have seen the severity of crimes increase. We have seen more calls of firearms pulled on police, more assaults on law enforcement, and more felony crimes compared to previous years. Felony crimes also require more time in investigating and preparing reports.
Proper paperwork for successful prosecution cannot be prepared when there is only one officer on duty and endless calls coming in. Prior to 2019, the police department investigated roughly 60 felony crimes per year. This has increased to 90 in each of the last two years.
More fallout of the heavy call loads and understaffing is that police have had to prioritize calls by severity, there is no time to conduct proper traffic patrols or enforce city ordinances.
Many of you have also asked why hire more officers if the County won’t take them or prosecute? The problem is much bigger than that. Our police are overworked and understaffed. We cannot afford to lose more police officers to “quieter” towns.
You’ve suggested that our lower, fixed income folks cannot handle a tax increase of any kind. There is also the argument that some of these folks are in fact, our MOST vulnerable and can benefit from a safer community. A decision requesting a raise of our taxes is never popular and we don’t take any of the meetings or conversations lightly.
COPSS would like to see our community pull together and combat our increased crime rate and staffing shortage. If you have anything you would like to discuss, you are invited to our next meeting Wednesday, Dec. 29 at 6 p.m. at City Hall. Follow the City of Cut Bank on Facebook for meeting announcements as well.