GREAT FALLS — On Tuesday night, Great Falls Police Chief Jeff Newton addressed the Great Falls City Commission about the recent spike in violent crime in Great Falls. On Wednesday, MTN was able to sit down with a GFPD Captain Doug Otto to learn more about the department’s take on what’s fueling the recent rise in gun-related crime.
It’s been a difficult few weeks for the GFPD. Since February 21st, they’ve responded to five separate incidents of gun violence. Collectively, the shootings resulted in the death of two victims and a suspect. One GFPD Officer, Tanner Lee, was shot and seriously injured on March 7th.
“He's got a road to recovery, and we're going to make sure that we help him along the way to work through that process,” said Captain Otto.
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Otto says a lot of GFPD officers have worked on several of these recent shootings. He adds that the department has various resources available for GFPD personnel impacted by the shootings including a peer support group in the department, counseling, and critical incident stress debriefings after incidents.
“Our command staff, we take it very seriously to make sure that our officers are getting the proper things that they have,” said Otto. “We're watching them closely. We do training on resiliency and all the different pieces that go with it. So it's robust. We are concerned for mental health. That is a huge piece in what we do.”
Otto believes several factors have played into the shootings.
In 2017, the Montana Legislature passed a series of bills called theJustice Reinvestment Initiative, which he says changed the direction of how someone who has committed a crime is held in jail.
“The circumstances involved in these instances were two of them were on probation, parole supervision, I guess is the best way to put it,” said Otto. “And then you take a look at that, coupled with narcotics, which has been on an extreme rise in the state of Montana, and then they've had the access to the firearms.”
Otto says the department is currently 11 officers short. He says passage of a public safety levy in November will help allocate more money for officers and equipment but is just part of cutting the crime rate.
“Our officers, probation and parole prosecutors, we're going to go out day after day and we're going to do the job,” said Otto. “I can assure that to the community. We will go out every day, pick it up and put it down put people in jail that are committing crimes. Where it goes from there with the judicial system is a very different point to how they're held.”
Otto says the community has useful resources to deal with addiction and mental health issues, but it’s not enough.
“It is a societal shift that we have to make,” said Otto. “Our community has to work together to try to find a way. It's not solely on one group of law enforcement or counselors or anybody else. It's a community push that has to happen.”
Captain Otto says the community can rest assured the police department will do their best to protect and serve the public.
“I know the community's concerned. We have your back,” said Otto. “We're going to take care of our citizens within the community and make sure that we give you the service you deserve. We might be short, but we’re going to work through it.”
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Extended interview with Captain Otto: