Missoula County Sheriff T.J. McDermott appeared to be headed for re-election late Tuesday, with Independent challenger Travis Wafstet trailing by nearly 4,000 votes.
As of midnight, totals showed McDermott with 12,191 votes and Wafstet with 8,328. That was with partial numbers posted for all 52 precincts.
After June’s primary election, Wafstet stepped in with a determination to change the leadership in the sheriff’s office.
Despite tension within the department since McDermott’s election in 2014, the sheriff said late Tuesday that he is determined to keep working hard and feels good about the numbers.
“We’re happy. [The results] look good,” McDermott said. “We hope they continue the same way and that we bring this home for a victory and I’m just excited to have another term as sheriff of Missoula County.”
McDermott said one highlight of his first term as adoption of the Jail Diversion Master Plan by the Missoula City Council and the Missoula County commissioners. The plan has already added a mental health worker to the county detention facility and boosted treatment outside of jail to those who suffer from substance abuse or have mental illnesses.
The plan offers a 24-hour medical treatment service which includes case managers and psychiatric care. He hopes to improve the program during the next four years.
“Really what I’m wanting to do in the next term is work with our stakeholders, certainly our hospitals, and try to see if our community can come together and have a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week mental health crisis center for people, including a law-enforcement drop-off,” he said.
About 40 percent of inmates in the county jail are non-violent, have substance abuse issues or suffer from mental illness, the sheriff said, and he hopes to find resources that will divert them away from jail cells.
“What I hope is that we can identify resources for those people that hopefully can remove them from a jail setting and put them into intensive supervision programs where they can keep their job, keep their housing, in exchange for a breath test in the morning and maybe a drug test at night, monitoring drug patches and those types of things,” he said.
The department also added a school resource officer during McDermott’s first term who serves as a role model to students, ensures positive work environments in classrooms and helps reduce youth crime. The officer currently overlooks about a dozen schools in the county, McDermott said.
“In the years to come, we hope to work with the board of county commissioners to add deputies and have a school resource deputy in each of the Missoula County schools,” he said.
Recent increases in calls for service and illegal drug arrests have prompted the department to hire more deputies, he said. More deputies are receiving crisis intervention training as well, which helps officers divert a person to a hospital rather than a cell.
“We’ve been able to increase staff in my first term by six deputies and by doing so, we were able to staff our drug and violent crime task forces,” he said. “That’s important and we need to continue that work collaborating with other law enforcement agencies to deal with some of the problems with methamphetamine that have resulted in some violent crimes in our communities, these homicides, and robberies, and kidnappings, and shootouts, things that we’re not accustomed to in Missoula.”
Whether or not McDermott is re-elected, he acknowledges the important work the department does every day and hopes to serve as sheriff for four more years.
“It can be a lot of hard work, but I have a great team. I have to tell you, I am so proud of the great work that’s been done by the men and women of the sheriff’s office. I’m honored to be their sheriff,” he said.
Wafstet could not be reached immediately Tuesday night for a statement.