By Ron VandenBoom
Local law enforcement agencies list drunk drivers as their primary concern this New Year's Eve, but precautions have also been taken to prepare for other possibilities.
"We'll be concerned about DUIs and we'll have our DUI Task Force working," said Havre Police Chief Mike Shortell. "But we don't anticipate too many more problems then we do on a normal New Year's Eve except there may be more people out."
Extra staff will be manning offices and patrol cars in Havre and Hill County starting Dec. 31, and continuing into the early morning hours of New Year's Day, Shortell said.
"Our response is not going to be much more than it is on any New Year's Eve," he added, "but we're just going to have more of a presence out there."
Shortell said eight officers will be working between the hours of 8 p.m. and 4 a.m. starting Dec. 31, and Shortell, Assistant Police Chief Kevin Olsen and Capt. Mark Stolen will also be on site for several hours during the millennium change. Staff secretaries will also be on call at the police department.
All of the department's patrol cars will be actively patrolling the streets, Shortell said.
Hill County Sheriff Tim Solomon said he too expects to put on the maximum number of deputies available to him and will also be bringing in reserve deputies to augment his staff for the occasion.
Concerns over vandalism and possible terrorism during the millennium change-over are part of the reason the two departments are going to be extra vigilant this year, but neither department is expecting any serious problems during Y2K.
Shortell said the awareness level was a little higher than normal, "because there may be people who are opportunists who may want to take this opportunity to express whatever their ideology is in some kind of vandalism."
"So we're kind of cognizant of that and we will be watching for that fairly closely," he said. "But I don't really anticipate too many of those kinds of problems."
Solomon said his staff will be keeping alert for terrorism and "pranksterism," but admitted that there was little his department could do to prevent somebody who was determined from committing an act of terrorism.
Unique to Y2K will be the sale of fireworks in Montana.
Shortell reminds area residents that all fireworks are illegal within the city limits and the Havre Police Department will be enforcing the city ordinance banning them.
Solomon, too, reminds residents that there is a fire danger associated with fireworks and asks people intending to set them off to remember to be careful. He also reminds residents that fireworks in Beaver Creek Park will still be illegal and the law will be enforced.
Shortell also reminds those who will be partying Dec. 31 that free rides are available through the Home Free Program.
"That's a great program in this city," Shortell said. "And a lot of people really are understanding the seriousness of DUI and they are taking advantage of it. I think the Tavern Association deserves a lot of credit for doing that, because they really do put out a real effort to see that everyone is safe. They really need to be congratulated."
Shortell also gave credit to Havre Ford and to the HELP organization for their assistance in the Home Free Program.
Solomon, too, noted that "it has been an excellent program for the last three years."
The overall effect of preparing for Y2K has, Shortell said, "reaffirmed our mutual efforts and cooperation among all of the departments."
He noted that they needed to be ready for any disaster. "It doesn't have to be Y2K," he said. "This will have a residual effect that if a natural disaster comes up in the future, a lot of these plans will be ready."