Law enforcement 

City debates police domain

Police Chief Mark Muir says he didn't anticipate the level of opposition generated by his effort to expand the Missoula Police Department's authority five miles beyond city limits.

"I'm totally shocked that it has had the type of resistance that it has," Muir says.

City law enforcement finds it challenging to police jurisdictional gray areas. As it stands, Missoula officers must travel through pockets of county land—overseen by the Missoula County Sheriff's Department—to arrive at annexed city territory. Muir proposed the ordinance in April to help municipal law enforcement do its job more efficiently, while freeing officers from potential civil lawsuits stemming from jurisdictional confusion.

City Council initially vetted the ordinance in May. Unable to gain consensus, it was sent back to committee for further tweaking. Last week, the Public Health and Safety Committee again split on the issue.

Muir feels strongly enough about the ordinance to keep pushing. In fact, he told the council in a recent e-mail that he appreciates the governing body's desire to refine the ordinance, but law enforcement experts are best equipped to guide the discussion.

"If you don't trust me to direct the police department and its activities, then I am going to be ineffective as your police chief," he wrote.

But Missoula City Councilman Bob Jaffe says he worries Muir's proposal will leave city taxpayers footing the bill for police work that extends well beyond municipal responsibilities.

"I'm very concerned about the idea that our office will start being the county's police force," Jaffe says.

In turn, Jaffe says he will offer an amendment that would abbreviate Muir's proposal, giving police full arrest authority 250 feet outside city limits, while allowing Missoula police officers to track down individuals suspected of committing crimes within the city up to five miles outside municipal boundaries. Jaffe also suggests providing authority to respond to offenses personally observed while en route to annexed city areas.

"It seems like that's reasonable that they should respond to those," he says.

Muir's proposal again goes before the public and council June 7.

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