Police: Crashing the party 

The return of college students every fall to Missoula usually means an increase in local law enforcement cracking down in booze fests, but this year may be a little different.

The Missoula Police Department’s annual “Strategic Alcohol Plan” devotes extra manpower to address seasonal increases in underage and excessive drinking. In the past, the operation’s included a “Party Patrol,” which sniffs out parties that host underage drinkers, as well as undercover officers patrolling local grocery stores in search of minors trying to buy alcohol. For the first time, the department will also deploy undercover officers in local bars to discern whether bartenders are breaking the law by serving overly intoxicated patrons.

“It’s a strategic community plan to try to address and deal with what really is a community problem,” says Capt. Chris Odlin about the overall effort.

Though not part of the Strategic Action Plan, police will also conduct more vehicle checkpoints like the Sept. 10 roadblock officers set up west of downtown Missoula. That operation targeted drivers not carrying a valid driver’s license, insurance card and registration, but could’ve also nabbed those suspected of driving under the influence.

“We definitely will conduct temporary roadblocks such as the one [on Sept. 10] at times and places where impaired drivers may be apprehended in connection with the roadblock,” says Police Chief Mark Muir Muir.

The September checkpoint was a trial—and the first employed locally in many years, according to Muir. During the operation, 888 vehicles passed through the checkpoint, and 111 were stopped. Police arrested four individuals for outstanding warrants and three for driving with a suspended or revoked license. Police cited 20 insurance violators, two registration violations, one driver for not having a license, five for other equipment issues and five for conducting illegal U-turns to potentially avoid the checkpoint.

Odlin says the whole spectrum of operations is designed not only to catch people breaking the law, but also to educate the community about ways individuals can stop alcohol-related crime.

“It’s not just a police department problem, it’s a community problem,” he says.

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