MISSOULA — Calls to defund the Missoula Police Department grew a little louder on Monday night with a handful of callers blasting the city for “siphoning off” money to equip officers while ignoring mental health, the city’s needy and “life giving Mother Earth.”
They also questioned the actions of the City Attorney’s Office in its choice to file misdemeanor charges against a legally armed individual accused of posing as a security officer without a license and unlawfully restraining a demonstrator.
That case has been filed in Missoula Municipal Court with a notice for the defendant to appear prior to July 31.
Several commentators on Monday night suggested local police intentionally sided with so-called vigilantes who were present at a BLM rally at the county courthouse on June 5 and in doing so, ignored the “culture at large.”
The city gave BLM demonstrators wide berth during the rallies. City officials have not taken an active roll in discussing the June 5 incident, other than issuing a short press release last week announcing the city’s charges.
That release offered limited facts, leading to widespread speculation in the public and by some media outlets as to what occurred. It also has led to one-sided reporting, misstatement of facts and political posturing from both sides of the issue, some have suggested.
“As a citizen, I’ve been trying to put together and understand what happened here,” said Rabbi Lorie Franklin. “From the outside, it looks like the young man was profiled by a vigilante, an armed man, and several others who were also armed.”
Franklin believes witness accounts from that night suggest that a handful of armed young men took actions into their own hands and acted as accessories to the local police department, but without police permission.
“I actually trust our police. They’re remarkably trained in not just the usual policing techniques, but also implicit bias and de-escalation,” Franklin said. “The situation that took place, that our police took cue from armed white men who were pursuing a young black teenager and took him into custody and didn’t take anyone else into custody, really disturbs me.”
The alleged victim’s age has not been disclosed.
The June 5 incident has yet to go to court and the facts have yet to be litigated. But callers on Monday night were united in their call for City Council members to use the “collective power” of their office to defund the Missoula Police Department and press higher charges against the alleged vigilante.
One Monday night caller interrupted a number of council members and other callers in pushing his agenda. Other callers urged the city to move money from law enforcement to subsidized housing and mental healthcare.
“The people’s money is being siphoned off to don the police department with military-grade gear and tactical vehicles that only contribute to street intimidation and show off cool tactical gear among each other,” one caller said.
No member of the City Council defended the police department during Monday’s call-in session. But several defended themselves against what they saw as slanders and falsities presented by one or two members of the public.
It took more than 40 minutes to get down to official city business. Despite the politics and posturing, several callers urged the city to direct more taxpayer funding to subsidized housing and mental health rather than law enforcement.
Three years ago, the mayoral race included a debate over better funding the police department.
“There is no one in this community you can call to aid a person in a mental health crisis other than a law enforcement officer,” one caller said. “There is no mental health crisis (care) in this community or any community that can be solved by calling the police.”
The city is considering directing funds to a mobile mental healthcare team and reducing the role law enforcement plays in such calls. Given the nature of the current City Council meetings, which are only held over digital media, it’s not possible to verify callers by name.