MPD budget requests include digital evidence, crisis and wellness
(Missoula Current) Unreliable equipment and changing expectations around policing are fueling new requests in this year's Missoula Police Department budget, including the need for dependable car and body cameras, and several new vehicles.
The department also is looking to further fund the Crisis Intervention Team, add a dedicated DUI enforcement officer, and expand opportunities for employee trauma and wellness.
The City Council is midway through the budgeting process for FY24 and the police department, like most other city departments, is looking to modernize and grow with Missoula. Topping the department's list of requests this year is a new digital evidence program.
Missoula Police Chief Mike Colyer said the current system doesn't meet modern standards and leaves the city vulnerable to lawsuits.
“I can't overstate how important the need for this new Axon digital evidence program is,” Colyer said. “We have a digital evidence program we don't believe in. We've had a number of unexpected failures from our video system. We have officers out there with batteries that can't get through a single shift.”
Colyer said a number of critical incidents have occurred in which an officer believes his or her video equipment is gathering evidence on a call, only to find out that no evidence was gathered. Several of those incidents included confrontations with armed individuals.
One such incident resulted in a lawsuit the city settled for $365,000. That was several years ago and the cost today would likely be higher, Colyer said.
“American policing – the expectations around transparency and accountability – is much different than it was in 2007,” Colyer said. “There's been situations where we think it's gathering evidence and it's not. We go back to review it and it's not there.”
The request doesn't come cheap at $1.5 million over five years, but the equipment would be leased and upgraded or replaced as needed at no additional cost. The digital evidence system also includes cameras in interview rooms and digital storage – a key component in prosecuting crimes.
The new system also includes a range of activation triggers including the use of a taser, drawing a weapon, unlocking a rifle rack or opening the back door, Colyer said.
“Body camera batteries aren't holding up. It's common that officers have a battery failure within their shift. It puts them in a bad situation,” he said. “The opportunity to get valuable information is much more seamless with the new system.”
Needs of a growing city
As Missoula grows, so too has the need for various city departments. The Missoula Fire Department needs to fund and staff a new station to improve response times and cover the growing Mullan area.
The police department is in a similar situation with patrol vehicles when other patrol cars are down. It's seeking $325,000 for three patrol cars and one new motorcycle for the Traffic Unit – a request that's been unfunded by the city now for several years.
Colyer said the department is also looking to fund a full-time DUI enforcement officer. The position would be funded by a national highway safety grant at $140,000.
“We need to be deliberate about DUI traffic enforcement,” he said. “Discretionary activities like DUI enforcement can fall by the wayside. We'd like to be more proactive about that. I'd like our DUI numbers to increase as a result of us being out there and being more proactive.”
The department is also looking to further fund the Crisis Intervention Team at $313,000 using one more year of ARPA funding. The program has been deemed a success since its launch and has become a critical piece of the police department's work.
Taking care of the department's employees is also important, Colyer said, and would cost the city $25,000 to maintain the program.
“Taking care of our people is the right thing to do. We've hired them to do difficult things,” Colyer said. “It's part of a bigger program related to mental health.”
The City Council will continue hearing new funding requests from city departments before debating what to fund and what leave unfunded. It's expected to conclude the budgeting process by August 21.