Limited Jail Space, Growing Population Strain Law Enforcement

Kalispell police report a spike in property crimes and theft

By Justin Franz

The Kalispell Police Department responded to 26,318 calls during the first nine months of 2016, about 4,200 more calls than it received during all of 2012, nearly a 20 percent increase.

“We’re busy,” said Kalispell Police Chief Roger Nasset, who attributed much of the increase to the Flathead Valley’s growing population and limited jail space. Other police chiefs in the Flathead Valley also say their officers are busier than ever.

Nasset said in 2012 his department had 35 officers, and this year it has 39. Despite the increase in uniformed officers on the street, the department is still stretched thin, he said.

“The officers used to be able to get a day’s work done in a day, but that’s not the case anymore,” he said. “There’s not only an increase in calls, but the calls have become more complex, and that means more paperwork.”

Theft cases have spiked in Kalispell. During the first 10 months of 2012, there were 680 property crimes reported within city limits. Through the same period this year, there have been 916 incidents, a 34 percent increase. Nasset said bikes have become a popular target and blamed the increase on the area’s growing drug problem.

Nasset also said that because the Flathead County Detention Center is frequently overflowing with inmates, it’s tough to punish misdemeanor offenders. In late October, there were 136 inmates in the jail, which was built in the 1980s to hold half that number.

“A few years ago, when there was more jail space, if someone committed a property crime we could put them in jail. But now all we can do is give them a ticket,” Nasset said. “If you can’t hold people accountable for what they’re doing, you really can’t stop that behavior.”

Whitefish Police Chief Bill Dial said his department has also seen an increase in calls. In 2015, the department responded to about 12,000 calls, but this year the department is expected to top 14,000 calls. Whitefish has 16 full time officers.

“Some of it’s due to growth in Whitefish,” Dial said. “But the lack of space at the county jail is also contributing to the problem.”

“It’s constant go-go-go for my guys,” Dial added.

Dial said there has also been an increase in property theft in Whitefish, particularly people breaking into cars. He said the best way to address those crimes is to work closely with the community he serves.

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