By A.J. Etherington
The Courier 

City to Consider Expanding GPD Jurisdiction

 

January 9, 2019



The Glasgow City Council is expected to take up the issue of expanding the Glasgow Police Department’s arrest authority out five miles from the current city limits at their next regular meeting on Jan. 21. The measure, if approved, would add roughly 100 square miles to the current GPD coverage area.

According to Chief of Police Brien Gault, the reasoning is to alleviate concerns the department and the city have regarding liability for Glasgow police officers. Gault asserts that as it stands now questions on the liability of officers could come up if they reacted to a use of force situation in areas outside the city’s limits.

Gault used the hypothetical situation involving an “active shooter” at the county fairgrounds. He states that if GPD officers responded to such an incident, without the explicit authority to do so by the county, the officers criminal and civil liability could be in question. Gault believes that the expansion of arrest authority would alleviate that concern.


The authority to expand the city’s arrest capabilities out five miles stems from a Montana law dating back to the establishment of the state and is annotated in Montana Code under 7-32-4301 Regulations governing arrest authorized.

The regulation states, “The city or town council has power to make regulations authorizing the police of the city or town to make arrests of persons charged with crime: (1) within the limits of the city or town; (2) within 5 miles thereof; and (3) along the line of water supply of the city or town.”

Since the founding of Glasgow, no ordinance has been passed to allow the police department to exercise this authority outside the confines of the city limits. Last year after being sworn in as Chief of Police, Gault made an effort to pass an ordinance citing the liability concerns as well as a case in which a DUI charge was dismissed because the stop occurred outside the officer’s official jurisdiction. That effort was stalled when then Sheriff Verne Buerkle and County Attorney Dylan Jensen publicly expressed reservations about expanding the jurisdiction at a City Council meeting in September.

The measure has regained traction following the support of the newly sworn in Sheriff Tom Boyer. Boyer supports the expansion along the same lines as Buerkle did, in that it clearly defines the abilities of the GPD. Boyer said he had received assurances that GPD will not be patrolling outside the city limits and that the boundary expansion was only an effort to alleviate liability.


The County Attorney has not backed off his opposition for the ordinance referring back to a letter he wrote to the Glasgow City Council on Oct. 26, 2018, publicly rebuking the Chief’s justification for the ordinance. In that letter Jensen pushed back on the idea that other cities in the state have similar measures citing that larger municipalities like Missoula have large, often irregular and disjointed, boundaries requiring the city to expand authority to provide continuity. He pointed out that an irregular boundary in Glasgow is not the case.

Jensen also rejected the liability issue argument saying, “I am unclear what liability is being avoided, though. The Glasgow Police Department’s duty to act runs to the public inside its jurisdictional limits, not five miles without.” Jensen went on to clarify that when officers leave city limits to conduct law enforcement authority at the request of the Valley County Sheriff’s Office they are afforded the same protections as county deputies.

Jensen further cited memorandums allowing GPD to address concerns along Scottie Pride Dr and Airport Rd as well as the fairgrounds that alleviated the liability. Jensen argued that the need for an ordinance being expansive and permanent was not necessary if the problem could be alleviated through cooperative actions between the departments, such as a new memorandum.


Jensen’s final concern was for the cooperation of law enforcement agencies in the county and a fear that tensions could arise in what he sees as a relatively good working relationship between the department and office.

“Currently, our agencies cooperate relatively well, but it has been my assessment (without assigning any blame) that the peace between GPD and the Sheriff’s Office has historically been an uneasy one,” wrote Jensen in his letter, “An increase in jurisdiction would, in my assessment, only increase opportunities for conflict, could lead to arguments for charging statistics (which are necessary for grant monies), and absent identifiable rules may lead to standoffs between officers during calls occurring in the expanded jurisdiction area.”

Chief Gault pushed back on those concerns citing issues raised from the city’s insurer, the Montana Municipal Interlocal Authority, who insists the expansion would alleviate any liability questions for officers acting on the boundaries of the city and who, according to Gault, could not define whether insurance would cover any civil liability imposed on such an officer.

Gault also pushed back on the idea that the city would pursue investigations outside city limits. He stated that the expansion would not allow the GPD to do traffic stops under the Montana Code, and that he has no intention of allowing the officers to patrol out of city limits. According to Boyer, the Chief and the Sheriff discussed the issue at length and agree that any cases derived from the expansion would default to the Sheriff’s Office for jurisdiction.

Both Gault and Boyer identified a desire to pursue a future working relationship that would be beneficial to the County as a whole. At the regular City Council Meeting on Monday, Jan. 7, Gault briefed the Mayor and Council members that for the first time in his extensive career with the City the entire GPD and VCSO spent time training on the range together. His optimism that any “uneasy peace” may come to be a past chapter in Glasgow’s history.

“It is not what color uniform we wear,” stated Gault, “We’re in this for the same reasons, which is to protect the public.”

 

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