The Missoula City Council Monday night approved an ordinance that will extend police authority to five miles outside city limits.
The measure's passage, by an 8-4 vote, comes after months of wrangling between Missoula Police Chief Mark Muir and members of the City Council who worried the ordinance would divert resources from Missoula's urban core to diffuse county areas.
"I feel pretty strongly that we don't want to start providing city police services in the county," Councilman Bob Jaffe said during Monday night's council meeting.
Despite such concerns, Muir pushed for the measure, maintaining that his department is challenged by blurry jurisdictional boundaries. His officers now travel through pockets of county land—overseen by the Missoula County Sheriff's Department—to arrive at annexed city territory. That, Muir argued, leaves law enforcement vulnerable to civil litigation. He proposed the ordinance in April to help municipal law enforcement do its job more efficiently.
But with a tight budget already cutting police patrols, Jaffe wasn't the only councilperson who voiced concern that Missoula's police force is stretched thin enough already. Councilman Roy Houseman explained his "no" vote by sharing conversations held with local business owners who said police already take too long to arrive at calls in downtown Missoula.
"That's why I can't support this," Houseman said.
Some residents at the meeting expressed the same sentiment. Tina Sunderland told the council she rarely sees criminal activity at home in East Missoula, but when she comes to work in Missoula, she regularly spots people drinking, doing drugs and engaging in sexual activity in the parking lot outside of her downtown workplace.
"We call 911 and don't get a quick response," she said.
Jaffe proposed a workaround that would have expanded the authority to arrest 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 suggested providing authority to respond in emergencies and to offenses personally observed while en route to annexed city areas.
That didn't fly with Muir or a majority of the council.
Police will assume expanded authority beginning July 7.