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Havre PD's extreme makeover


Havre Daily News/Nikki Carlson

Havre Police Department Officer Ryan Pearson patrols Cowan Hall on foot at the the Montana State University-Northern campus Feb. 23.

Kirk Fitch helped build the Maricopa, Ariz., police department from scratch, and now he's using that experience to re-form the Havre Police Department into a 21st century community police force.

Less than two months into his tenure as police chief, Fitch has already made significant changes and is working on making even more.

Sitting in his office last week, Fitch described the changes already made to many of the department's operating procedures and outlined some of the plans he has for the next year.

The first priority he jumped on when taking office was to consolidate, clarify and rethink the police policy handbooks, which are now spread across several volumes, into one cohesive and coherent collection.

So far, the department has retooled its policies in dealing with missing persons and vehicle use, including more strict control over car chases, with more supervisor approval required.

Fitch explained to City Council, during its last meeting that the department has recently adjusted its policy to fit in with the city's restriction on cellphone use while driving, though officers would still be able to use phones in special emergency circumstances.

One of the first changes Fitch made was moving over to 12-hour shifts for officers, a policy he enacted and saw the benefit from back in Arizona.

"I can confidently say about the 90th percentile like it, " Fitch said. "I don't think you'll have any schedule that everybody likes. "

Concerns expressed about the new system leading to officer fatigue have, according to Fitch, been unfounded so far.

The change was intended to increase the number of officers on the streets, which he said has been noticed.

"I've gotten a lot of feedback that people are appreciative of seeing more officers out there, " Fitch said.

Another plan, still in progress, to achieve a similar end is to set up what Fitch calls "satellite stations, " where officers can file reports and check in from three to five locations throughout Havre.

Fitch said he hopes to have fewer officers in the main office and more out in the community, interacting with people and making their presence known.

He has already met with Chancellor James Limbaugh at Montana State University-Northern and Havre Public Schools' Superintendent Andy Carlson about the plan, and everyone seems on board.

Another plan, that has already been paid for, is to appoint a community service officer to meet with community stakeholders and develop block watch or neighborhood watch programs.

The department received a Community Oriented Policing Services grant, from the U. S. Department of Justice, for this officer last year. Fitch said they just need to hire a new officer, as early as the end of this month, so a senior officer can take over community duties.

Fitch is committed to having more direct interaction with the public, which, aside from other programs above, is why the Havre police now have a Facebook profile, where they will post warnings, alerts and general tips.

This new digital outreach will also bring new changes to the department's website, http://www.havrepolicemt.com.

"Instead of catching criminals afterwards, we'd rather educate people beforehand, " Fitch said.

One example Fitch cited was a small string of car thefts recently, where the drivers left cars running and unattended. Just getting the word out there, of the risks of leaving a running car unattended, would prevent the crimes from occurring in the first place.

The electronic makeover may also change an officer's equipment as well.

Fitch said he hopes to have officers carry laptops, or some other Internet-connected devices so they can "file reports from the field, " instantly.

He also believes that issuing tasers will aid public safety, saying those eager for a scuffle may lose some of that enthusiasm when faced with "getting zapped. "

Through the next year, Fitch plans on continuing the review of all of the department's operational policies.

Beyond that, Fitch said he was working on a five-year plan, though it is more of a two-year plan, as constant budget changes and possible future council changes make long term planning very difficult.

Given the number of changes already planned in the first six weeks, Fitch may not even need a whole five years.


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