Boulder City Attorney Ed Guza presented the City Council with a first draft of the contract agreement that the city hopes to make with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office to provide police services in Boulder.
At a City Council meeting on Monday night, Guza said that the draft contract indicated that the city is willing to pay $190,000 per year for 24/7 law enforcement from the Sheriff's Office, and that this amount can "get the conversation started." The contract also requested that the Sheriff’s Office hire a minimum of two new police officers to serve the city, and that they reside within 5 miles of the city of Boulder.
"My feelings are [that the Sheriff’s Office] should agree to the contract," Guza said. He added that the Sheriff’s Office agreed to many of these terms in their contractual agreement with Whitehall, including the obligation that two officers live near the city. "My hope is that if the council approves this, the Sheriff won’t have any issues either."
Guza said that the county needed more time to review the contract and take public comment before acting on the contract.
City Council President Drew Dawson said that although there are several "blanks" to fill in, he thought the contract "generally fits" the city’s intentions. He added that it is important to clarify the "intentions of what the contract is, and what it isn’t."
"We have not been able to keep a police force here consistently to provide law enforcement protection. It’s not because we don’t want to," he said. Boulder cannot compete with the salaries that the county and neighboring jurisdictions provide to police officers, he said, so the city ends up investing money in educating its officers, and then losing them.
"That doesn’t serve the citizens of Boulder well," Dawson said, "even with three law enforcement officers, if you do the math and consider the pay iterations and so forth, we cannot provide law enforcement protection around the clock."
Dawson stressed that a contract with the Sheriff’s Office was not an effort to de-emphasize law enforcement. It is "in fact the opposite," he said, offering "better services" in a way that the city could afford. Dawson acknowledged that the county has similar issues with retaining officers, but he said that they still have a "bigger pool of people to draw from," and can attract more officers than Boulder because the county offers a higher salary.
Dawson also acknowledged that code enforcement has "always" been an issue in Boulder. He said the city plans to hire an officer who is solely dedicated to enforcing city codes, which will allow the city to enforce codes more effectively than before.
"My concern is what assurance are we going to have that [the Sheriff's Office] isn't going to be pulled somewhere else in the county and we won’t have coverage here?" Boulder resident Cheryl Haasakker asked at the meeting. She added that the county is "quite a bit bigger" than Boulder, and she was concerned that the Sheriff's Office is stretched to its limit.
Dawson said that the contract with the Sheriff’s Office would not solve all of Boulder’s policing issues, but it will be a "better opportunity" for coverage, and would work well with the Sheriff's Office's dispatch in Boulder. He said that there might be situations where people aren’t "100 percent satisfied," but the contract will rely on "trust." The city will see how it goes, and will monitor the level of policing carefully, he said.
Pat Lewis, a Boulder resident who is running for City Council, asked if the Montana Highway Patrol could patrol Boulder’s Main Street, because it is a state highway. Mayor Rusty Giulio said that they can, which should provide some additional coverage. The MHP is in the process of moving its headquarters from Helena to Boulder, and should begin occupying its new home in the former Montana Developmental Center's North Campus in mid-August.
The Monitor previously reported that Boulder currently does not have a police force after its three officers resigned in recent months, but the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office is responding to emergencies in the city. Guza said that residents may question why they should pay for a service that they already receive, since the county already responds to the incidents in Boulder. He said that paying the county would allow the Sheriff's Office to allocate resources to specifically serve Boulder.
"This money should create a different Sheriff’s [Office] than we have now," Guza said.
Giulio said that if the contract does not work out, the city will likely to return to its previous system of policing in which the city directly employs officers and maintains its own police department.
According to Giulio, if the Sheriff's Office approves the contract, it may need final approval from the County Commission. County Commissioner Cory Kirsch said at the meeting that he wasn't sure if the commission would have to approve the contract, although the county does handle funding the Sheriff's Office.