Police Chief Mark Muir called on City Council to pass an emergency ordinance that would give the Missoula Police Department authority to arrest people up to five miles outside city limits.
Muir says he's proposing the ordinance because his department has been challenged in policing jurisdictional gray areas. As it stands, Missoula officers must travel through pockets of county land—overseen by the County Sheriff's Department—to arrive at annexed city territory. The proposed ordinance would help law enforcement do its job more efficiently, Muir says, while freeing his staff from potential civil lawsuits stemming from jurisdictional confusion.
Blurry boundaries become more conspicuous this time of year, as warm weather lures partying teens to the beach off Deer Creek Road bridge. That beach east of Missoula is officially county turf, but just adjacent to city land.
According to Muir's referral to City Council, "Missoula residents have been persistently plagued by illegal, immoral, obscene and threatening behaviors from individuals who frequent this area outside the edge of city limits."
If City Council approves the law, city police would be able to clamp down on illegal activity there and in other tricky fringe areas. The county's top law enforcement officer, Sheriff Mike McMeekin, says he's evaluating Muir's proposal before signing off.
Meanwhile, others have expressed concerns about the proposal, including Councilman Bob Jaffe and commenters on his city government listserv, an e-mailed news bulletin that keeps locals abridged of council activity.
Janet Stevens Donahue, a former Missoula County commissioner and retired chief administrative officer for the city, wrote on the listserv—and reiterated to the Independent—that it's not smart to give municipal employees extra work during the current fiscal crisis.
"It doesn't make sense to me for the city to take on more responsibilities when we can barely handle our own responsibilities within the city's limits," she wrote. "I would be interested to understand more about why the police department feels the need for the five-mile jurisdictional area expansion. Surely there must be more to it than a teenage party in Deer Creek."
City Council plans to hold a public meeting to discuss the matter May 3.