Havre Daily News
A proposed increase in booking costs at the Hill County Detention Center has led the Havre Police Department to change its practices and use its own personnel to fingerprint the people it arrests.
Previously, county detention officers had handled all of the fingerprinting and booking for people arrested by either agency. Havre police officers are now fingerprinting inmates during the booking process, Havre Police Chief Mike Barthel said today.
The city canceled a 12-year-old contract with the Hill County Sheriff's Office in late June. The agreement had been set to automatically renew at the beginning of July. Hill County Sheriff Greg Szudera had proposed an increase in the fee charged to the city for the booking work done by detention officers at the jail.
The fee had been $5 per inmate. Szudera proposed raising it to $10.
Barthel said the department has budgeted for 1,100 arrests a year. With the increased fee, the city would be paying $11,000 a year for fingerprinting.
The increase is fair, Szudera said Monday. The county recently obtained new equipment to assist with bookings, which will cost money to maintain, and is facing an increasing number of inmates at the detention center. Szudera said he had been keeping two detention officers on duty to handle bookings, but because of the increasing population, he is now considering using a third officer on a regular basis. It takes a detention officer about 45 minutes to book an inmate, he said.
"I viewed the charge as very minimal," Szudera said.
Barthel said City Attorney Mary VanBuskirk has been in contact with the state Attorney General's Office regarding the fee.
"The city has asked the attorney general for an opinion in reference to booking fees," Barthel said.
VanBuskirk did not return a call seeking comment today.
Hill County Commissioner Doug Kaercher said the fee increase is appropriate.
"We just want (the city) to understand that there's a cost of manpower to process any inmate, and we just want to make them make sure that they are Personnel is not the only cost, Szudera said. Detention officers maintain drawers full of files and keep track of arrests through the Montana Arrest Numbering System, he said.
Hill County also received grant money to pay for a fingerprint scanner, which will allow jail personnel to easily transmit fingerprints to state and FBI databases, Szudera said. Though the initial equipment purchase was free, the scanner will cost about $3,000 or more a year to maintain, Szudera said.
Szudera said his department will be able to handle the loss of revenue from the city.
"I'm going to ask the staff to tighten their belts - as I have in the past - in all of our operations and get the job done," he said.