Havre Daily News
The Montana Highway Patrol has dropped its plan to use a one-stop-per-hour benchmark for officers, state Attorney General Mike McGrath said Wednesday.
"It was just a possible management tool," McGrath said of the policy, which sparked an outcry. He said his office is developing an evaluation policy for the patrol that will not incorporate any numerical standards.
The one-stop policy, put in place earlier this month - along with a December 2004 requirement by Highway Patrol director Col. Paul Grimstad that each officer issue 12 drunken driving tickets each year - will not appear in the new policy.
The drunken driving arrest requirement never took effect because of a new state law prohibiting quotas, according to the Highway Patrol.
State Reps. Jonathan Windy Boy, D-Rocky Boy, and Jill Cohenour, D-East Helena, had objected to the one-stop-an-hour policy, saying it could fall unfairly on the state's Native Americans.
McGrath responded to Cohenour's concern in a letter defending the Highway Patrol.
"I want to personally reassure you that I am very concerned about the perception that officers are making stops for racially motivated reasons," McGrath wrote. "The Department of Justice is constantly striving to improve our policies and training practices to insure that no officer of the Montana Highway Patrol is making decisions based on race."
Windy Boy said Wednesday of McGrath's decision to drop the one-stop policy: "That's good news. That's good to hear." He added that other state legislators had contacted him this week, concerned that the management guideline amounted to a quota.
A new state law makes it illegal to require officers to have a set number of arrests or citations, but an amendment to the bill left room for management guidelines that use numbers.
The requirement that officers issue 12 drunken driving tickets each year was invalidated by the new state law, said Havre District Captain Butch Huseby.
McGrath said the one-stop guideline was a policy being considered in an effort to improve management.
"The perception is that it still doesn't comply with the law," McGrath said. "Actually it does."
But, he added, "There are a lot of ways to do this without numbers and we can do a better job of managing people without numbers anyway."
McGrath said his office is working on a policy requiring officers to sit down regularly with their supervisors and discuss their performance and work skills. The meetings will consider many aspects of an officer's job, including accident scene re-creation, public relations, driving skills and report writing.
The new evaluation policy will be finished in a couple weeks, he said.
McGrath wrote in the letter that he wanted to dispell some misconceptions.
"Several legislators have been told that stops in reservation communities are 3 times higher than other communities. This is not true," McGrath wrote.
He cited the Havre district, which includes eight counties and three reservations, but has roughly the same rate of stops as districts without any reservations. In the Havre district, each officer makes about 1.05 stops per hour, compared with an average of 1.07 statewide.
Grimstad said Tuesday that better management is a priority in the patrol, especially because of the low number of officers on the road, about 170, and Montana's status as a state with a high rate of highway deaths.
"We have to change the way we've been doing busines," Grimstad said. "There has to be something there to evaluate these officers."
McGrath said that a goal locally is for the Highway Patrol to establish co-enforcement agreements with the Rocky Boy and Fort Belknap Indian reservations.
The patrol already has an agreement with the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in the Havre district, but each agreement is different, McGrath said.
"I think it depends on what the tribal council wants to do, what the community wants to do, what works for them, and what works for us," he said. "There's no cookie-cutter answer."
Huseby said that on the Blackfeet reservation, troopers patrol reservation roads, but only look for violations the tribal council asked them to. Citations are taken to tribal court, and if complaints are filed against an officer, that officer is brought before the tribal council.
Windy Boy said he's familiar with the agreements and the possibility for one at Rocky Boy.
"I'm not going to eliminate any further discussions," Windy Boy said. "If they want to sit down and discuss possible agreements, that will always be on the table. I'm not going to shut them out completely."
Windy Boy also said he wasn't sure such an agreement is necessary at Rocky Boy. Most of the roads are well off the main highways and the reservation has its own police force, he said.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this story.