Sixteen Missoula police officers will go to Utah in February to provide security at the Winter Olympics, upholding the Garden City’s end of a law enforcement exchange that brought Utah officers to town for last summer’s Hell’s Angels visit.
The Missoula contingent will be working primarily at a ski competition site near the town of Ogden, according to Assistant Chief Rusty Wickman, who will lead the group. The officers go to Utah on Feb. 1 and plan to stay there for two weeks.
Most of the officers will provide security at the ski site, called Snow Basin, but some will be spread among other posts like the Olympic Committee office and the numerous bus checkpoints, Wickman says.
Post-September 11 security concerns mean that the Missoula officers will be working closely with federal agencies and military personnel. Wickman says he is not concerned about the Olympics becoming a terrorist target, though.
“It’s there in the back of your mind,” Wickman says. “You prepare for it, but I’m not worried about it personally.”
The Snow Basin venue is rather remote, he says, and heavy winter weather may keep potential terrorists from traveling cross country to Utah. Judging by the demand for Olympics duty, the rank-and-file seem to share Wickman’s confidence.
“It was pretty much a coveted assignment,” he says. “Unfortunately we couldn’t take everybody.”
The Missoula Police Department is sending the officers as part of a “reciprocal agreement” with the Weber County (Utah) Sheriff’s Department. Weber County sent 24 deputies to Missoula in July, 2000 to help with the Hell’s Angels visit.
“This is money well-spent for us to go to school in Missoula and bring the lessons back home,” Weber County Sheriff Brad Slater told the Billings Gazette last year. “Ogden is a venue city for the 2002 Winter Olympics, and this is a crowd situation that we can learn from.”
The officers got their money’s worth by helping the Missoula authorities quell two nights of rioting when police clashed with locals who had gathered to watch the bikers, as well as others who were protesting the heavy police presence. In the year since the Hell’s Angels visit, Missoula got a new police chief, and the mayor appointed a special commission to review protesters’ charges of police brutality and the police department’s claims that the protesters were unruly and provocative.
Now Missoula police are looking forward to the Olympics as a positive end to a tumultuous chapter in the city’s history.
“The officers that had been here last year said we were the kind of professional officers they want at this event,” Wickman says. “I think it’s a great honor for the department and the city.”