Wednesday, January 25

Sheriff's Race is Opportunity for Community Discussion

I have a great deal of respect for our Sheriff, David Castle. Everything I have seen shows that he is a good cop, and takes his responsibilities (including his fiduciary responsibility over our tax dollars) seriously.

The Sheriff's office is probably one of the most significant local elected positions in our County. It oversees a very large number of personnel, and has one of the largest budgets of any municipal organization. As well it should; there is a lot of ground to protect in this county.

Retired Sheriff's Captain Dan Smrdel has filed to run against Castle in the upcoming election. Whoever ends up winning (and I have no dog in this fight), this race will be an opportunity to discuss the proper allocation of our municipal law enforcement dollars.

In the late 90s, our county spent a great deal of money to build a big jail. At the time, we were all told that it would make money for the county, because beds could be leased out to the State.

It hasn't worked out that way. Since the jail was built, the meth crisis has kept the jail filled with county inmates. In addition, we see in today's paper that the county and the State are in the middle of a pissing match over how much the State should pay the county to house an inmate.

I am not going to say we shouldn't have built the jail. If the meth crisis wouldn't have happened, then the builders projections might have been met. However, I do say that we need to be very sure that a municipal budget this big is being well managed, with transparency in its financial operations.

I think that Castle is doing a good job here. He ran on a platform of opposition to increased taxation for his department, and has spent the last year and a half doing good work using his resources. However, he has since made an about face and called for more money for his department.

Enforcing law and order is not a cheap venture. The executive we hire to manage that enforcement is an important figure in our community. I look forward to learning more about the two men applying for the job.


GeeGuy said...

I'm a little surprise you buy into the whole idea that a meth crisis "happened." Are you telling me that, in the mid-90's, no one had any inkling about meth? I know a guy who was using it back in the early 90's.

Shouldn't law enforcement, as 'experts,' be held to some standard of competence in forecasting?

Don't you ever feel that the meth problem has become somewhat of a scapegoat?

Treasure State Jew said...

Law enforcement should have been able to predict the problem. They didn't. Unless they built the jail, lying to us about the true reasons. I don't think that happened, do you?

One or two users, or even 20 or 30, is a far cry from the situation here now. Meth is big business and a big problem.

Some do use meth as a scapegoat. However, I think that it is obvious that the sheriff's department is financially stretched because we have to pick up the tab to incarcerate all of these meth users.

a-fire-fly said...

I kinda have to agree with Gee on this one. Living in Billings in the early "90's I was amazed by the amount of meth use. There should have been more awareness by law enforcement all over this state years ago. Our ppopulation is spread out over a lot of area, with fertilizer everywhere - Hmm, pretty easy place to produce the stuff.
"we have to pick up the tab to incarcerate all of these meth users." Shouldn't it be the producers and sellers that need to be incarcerated?

Treasure State Jew said...

Firefly; Shoulda, coulda, woulda; but didn't.

Should law enforcement have predicted that meth would become the problem it did? Yes. Did they? No.

I think that lack of perceived foresight is part of the reason that Funyak lost two years ago. However, I am less interested in ascribing blame than I am in discussing the future.

I think that it is a scapegoat to blame the problem on locally produced meth. While it is a huge problem (mostly for the toxic waste it produces), the quantity of locally produced meth is a drop in the bucket compared to the stuff produced out of State/Country.

The producers and ultimate sellers do not live or ply their trade in Great Falls. The local sellers are just couriers for their bosses in (I presume) Yakima and Mexico.

So how do we solve the problem? I don't think we can by ourselves. However, our jail is full of meth users and small-bit sellers. Properties throughout Great Falls are unsaleable or unrentable because they were used as small-time meth labs. The societal cost here is very high.

a-fire-fly said...

Sorry but I disagree, with the locally produced. "Properties throughout Great Falls are unsaleable or unrentable because they were used as small-time meth labs" If you have that much production in a town the size of Great Falls, it is a lot of meth. I believe with meth, as opposed to marijuana, it is the small producers who cause alot of the problems. Pot you have to have the means to grow and care for the product over a period of time. That is why so much is imported. Meth you need the components, a small area, and a little time. Production is easier, and less of a risk, with a greater payoff. I bet for every known property there are two or three where they finished making it and just left. That is a large part of the problem.
I hope greater awareness of the realities of this drug will keep our kids from getting involved with it.

Treasure State Jew said...

Firefly; No need to be sorry, the discussion is interesting and worthwhile!

My guess is that meth is being produced locally because of the high profit available. That profit is fueled by the great deal of out-of-state meth ferried into our community.

We need to attack both that supply and the high demand for the product in our community. If we can significantly decrease demand then price should decrease. With a decrease in price, there will be less incentive to locally produce.

Now, the question is; how do you decrease demand? I have no answer. However, incarceration is one tool at our disposal.