Havre Daily News
The city of Havre is looking for ways to alleviate a staffing problem at the Police Department.
Two possible solutions are being studied. One would create a reserve police force. Another would use former police officers to fill in as paid employees when needed.
Havre Mayor Bob Rice asked Police Chief Mike Barthel to study the possibility of creating a reserve force after the chief had raised concerns about his staffing level.
The Police Department has 18 officers, down from 19 a year ago, and has been asked not to fill the vacancy this fiscal year. Barthel has said he is concerned about the safety of his officers and the public. Officers were given little or no time off during the summer months, he said.
If a reserve force is created, a half-dozen or so reserve officers would be available to provide help on holiday weekends and emergencies, Rice said this week.
”My intent is to have some backup,“ Rice said. ”If we have a disaster in the area, I'd have a backup force. I'm still looking at it.“
The reserve officers could handle traffic control and security during parades and other special events, he added. The officers could be unpaid volunteers this fiscal year and could be incorporated into the budget next year, he said.
In a letter to Rice, Barthel stated that he does not think a volunteer reserve force would alleviate the department's staffing problem.
”Currently, I do not believe this would provide an immediate relief to the men and women of the Havre Police Department,“ Barthel wrote.
Barthel cited the time it would take to train reserve officers, the need to create new policies and procedures, and the lack of money in the city budget to pay reserveofficers.
Instead, Barthel proposes using former officers and deputies to fill in as needed. In his letter to Rice, he said he has heard from several people who would like to work part time in order to maintain their Peace Officer Standardized Training certification.
Barthel said he could use money not spent on overtime for his regular officers to pay those who fill in.
Rice said he is looking at both the reserve and part-time proposals.
”We're exploring all of the options,“ he said. ”Anything that will make the community safer and save the city money. I know Mike disagrees with me on (the reserve force), but I'm going to do more research.“
Both Rice and Barthel noted that the Police Department has used a former officer to help cover shifts when he isn't farming.
Rice also said he has heard from former officers who want to keep up their certifications.
”I'm encouraged by the fact that some of the former officers are willing to step to the plate,“ he said.
Rice said there are still a few questions to be answered before the city moves forward. He said he will speak with officials at Montana Municipal Insurance Authority, which provides the city's liability insurance, to see what costs could be associated with the reserve force.
Authority chief executive officer Bob Worthington said Wednesday that he doesn't see a problem with having reserve officers.
”If properly managed, we don't see it as a difficulty,“ Worthington said.
The city's liability insurance is based on its payroll, he said. Havre's insurance would go up based on how much the officers would be paid. Many towns across the state have such forces, he said.
”Havre's had a very good police force, and I would presume they would follow through with the training,“ Worthington said. ”Managed properly, with a limited amount of exposure, it's not a concern for us.“
According to state law, a reserve officer must complete at least 88 hours of training. Also, no local government may reduce the number of full-time law enforcement officers by using reserve officers. Reserve officers may carry weapons after they have completed the required training. Reserve officers are subordinate to full-time officers and cannot serve unless supervised by another officer.
Phillips County Undersheriff Scott Moran said the sheriff's office started a reserve program about eight years ago. The officers were used for additional patrols, as well as handling special events like the county fair and school basketball tournaments.
At one point, Phillips County had seven reserve officers, Moran said. It hasn't had any for about three months. The department does not pay its reserve officers, so it is difficult at times to keep people interested, he said.
”Getting interest is difficult ... because it's volunteer and there is quite a lot of training,“ Moran said.
The officers could be hired by local schools or the fair board and paid to work at events, he said.
The Hill County Sheriff's Office has had a reserve force for years, County Commissioner Doug Kaercher said today. The reserve deputies are paid by the hour when they are utilized, he said.
The reserve deputies are used in various capacities, Kaercher said. Those include transporting prisoners to Deer Lodge, working security at large events, such as the Great Northern Fair, and courtroom security, he said.
Hill County Sheriff Greg Szudera could not be reached for comment.
Rice said Havre used to have a reserve force but cut it because there was no room in the budget.