By Patrick Winderl/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
Local law enforcement agencies will purchase new handguns and computers and hire a new police officer with money they received through a federal grant.
The Community Crime Prevention Committee, a board that oversees the use of Local Law Enforcement Block Grant money, on Wednesday approved spending proposals by the Havre Police Department and the Hill County Sheriff's Office.
Under the LLEBG program, administered through the U.S. Department of Justice, the Police Department will spend $23,998 on weapons, computers, overtime pay, and a new temporary police officer position. The officer, who will be hired for a three-month period, will be responsible for locating wanted suspects and collecting outstanding fines.
The Hill County Sheriff's Office will use its award of $10,563 to replace the agency's aging computers.
The Crime Prevention Committee approved the proposals from both agencies without change.
Havre Police Chief Kevin Olson proposed the department spend $7,000 to hire the new police officer, $2,000 on overtime pay, $12,000 on new handguns and accessories, and $2,998 on two new computers.
Purchasing new handguns is the Police Department's No. 1 priority, Olson said.
"The handguns we're using are 13 years old and we're starting to see some mechanical malfunctions," Olson said.
The $12,000 will be used to purchase 20 new Glock .40-caliber handguns, 20 gun holsters, and 40 extra ammunition clips. The handguns will likely include laser sight and flashlight accessories, Olson added.
The new officer will perform only warrant enforcement duties, Olson said, and will work between 24 and 32 hours a week.
"The officer will have no other police duties and will not be available to respond to other calls," he said, adding that the number of wanted suspects and unpaid fines is the highest in the city's history.
The proposal to hire the new officer was well-received by the Crime Prevention Committee.
City Judge Joyce Perszyk, a committee member, said the officer could help clean up a court backlog and help recover some of the $250,000 in outstanding fines. About 400 adult and 200 juvenile warrants are waiting to be served.
The new officer will locate truant defendants and give them the option of paying the fine or going to jail, Olson said.
"Some will heed the warning and others you're going to have to actually physically go out and arrest," he said.
Having an officer who only serves warrants could result in a sudden influx of new inmates at the Hill County Detention Center, Olson said. The cost of incarcerating one inmate for a day is $47.50.
It unknown how much of the $250,000 the new officer will be able to collect. It is likely that only a small percentage will be collected, but even that will benefit the city, Olson said.
"What you have to remember is that most of these people didn't decide just not to pay the fines - most of them don't have the ability to pay," he said. "If we collect $40,000 or $50,000, I'd say that's successful."
Youth probation officer Bob Peake asked Olson if the department would consider making the new position permanent if the effort is successful.
"It will be interesting to see what the numbers are," Olson said. "It's certainly something to consider. I think this will be a worthwhile test case."
The department may apply for a federal grant to fund hiring a new police officer for a three-year period, Olson said. The city would have to pay for the position after the three years, he said.
The Police Department will accept applications for the new position. Olson said he knows of a qualified individual who has expressed interest in the new job, but that law requires that the department accept applications from other people.
After the committee approved Olson's spending proposal, Szudera made his pitch. Citing the slow processing speed of sheriff's office computers, he told the committee he would like to spend LLEBG money to buy seven new computers.
"It takes quite a bit of time for our deputies to access the system, and enter and retrieve information," he said. "From my standpoint, the less time they spend accessing information and the more time they spend in the field is a benefit to the community."
There are nine computers that need replacing, and the grant will fund seven, Szudera said.
Each of the two grants requires a match from the agency that receives them. The Police Department contributed $2,400 from its general fund, while the Sheriff's Office paid $1,056.