Havre Daily News
The Havre Police Department has solved part of its staffing problem. The solution: a former local retail manager and past president of the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce.
Police Chief Mike Barthel this week swore in Jason Barkus as the department's newest probationary police officer.
Barkus will train at the Montana Law Enforcement Academy in Helena for three months before joining the Police Department full time, filling out Barthel's roster of 19 officers.
In September, Barthel raised concerns when he was asked to leave the position vacant because of a budget shortage. He said he was worried about officer fatigue and the level of service the department could provide the community. The shortage meant that most officers had little or no time off over the summer, he said.
Barthel's concerns were compounded by changes in the relationship between the Hill County Sheriff's Office and his department.
In June, the city canceled a booking contract with the county after Sheriff Greg Szudera asked to raise the per-prisoner fee, requiring that city officers now book city prisoners.
In September, Szudera stopped allowing detention officers to provide courtroom security for city prisoner arraignments at the jail, saying he was short-staffed. He also said state statute gave that job to police departments.
Barthel said the hiring of Barkus is “definitely a move in the right direction.”
After his swearing-in before the Havre City Council on Tuesday night, Barkus said in an interview that he left his family's business, Barkus Home Center, to join the force to follow a dream.
“It's just something I've always wanted to do,” he said.
Barkus is married to Tamara Barkus, who serves as the city's prosecutor in Havre City Court.
That relationship does not represent a conflict of interest, Barthel and Tamara Barkus said.
“The judge and the jury are the ultimate triers of fact,” Tamara Barkus said.
Barthel said he checked with the state Attorney General's Office, which confirmed there won't be a problem.
Barthel said he and Szudera are still talking about the booking and courtroom security issues, but they have not come to a written agreement. Last month, Barthel and Szudera agreed to look at an arrangement in which the city would pay the increased fee in exchange for the county providing booking and courtroom security.
“Hopefully we can put this problem behind us in the near future,” Barthel said.
Havre Mayor Bob Rice said Wednesday that he is continuing to look at reviving a reserve police force to help provide security at special events and perform other duties.
Barthel said he has been using one former officer on a part-time basis to fill in for vacations and sick leaves.