In response to “a number of emails” sent to the Kalispell City Council regarding the national debate over defunding police departments, the council assured residents at a recent meeting that the current police department funding would be maintained as it was originally set for the 2021 fiscal year.
The council’s June 15 meeting agenda didn’t have any items regarding police funding, but numerous people from the public showed up at council chambers to address the issue, as well as to discuss the recent Black Lives Matter protest in Kalispell.
“We do fund our police force in Kalispell,” Mayor Mark Johnson said. “We don’t anticipate ever cutting the funding for the police force and we will maintain that funding for as long as I am the mayor.”
The proposed 2021 budget for the police department will remain at $5,659,635, a 6.85% increase from the 2020 fiscal year, which the council will finalize this summer.
“I think that all of us on the council agree that chain emails are not necessarily how we make decisions,” Councilor Kyle Waterman said. “I’ve seen chain emails from both sides in my inbox — they are fairly full — and that is not how we make decisions and that’s not how we are swayed on funding things.”
Community members attended the meeting to express their views on Kalispell’s Black Lives Matter protest, which occurred on June 6 in Depot Park and included the presence of members of the Flathead Patriot Guard, many who were armed with high-powered rifles and said they were there as “peacekeepers.”
Roughly 25 local Flathead Valley residents spoke during public comment, some supporting the “peacekeepers” and others against them, but all speakers agreed in their support of the police department.
“I do understand there’s some individuals that would like to reform or defund our law enforcement, and I’m also concerned about those who are here who exercise their Second Amendment rights,” Kalispell resident Bill Miles said, who expressed his support for local police.
While several other residents expressed their support for the police department and the Second Amendment rights on display at the June 6 protest, others spoke out against the armed “peacekeepers.”
“I was (at the protest) with my parents with my granddaughter with my children … I was of course shocked to see the heavily armed men all through that park,” Valeri McGarvey said. “That’s not something I’ve ever been around and frankly it didn’t feel peaceful. I didn’t feel protected. It was frightening to me and very stressful.”
Others defended the armed individuals at the protest, saying they were needed after hearing rumors, which were ultimately unfounded, that Antifa, an anti-fascist group, would also be at the protest.
“We had intel that Black Lives Matter was coming in to town,” Kalispell resident Dennis Gomez said. “And also when Black Lives Matter comes into town, Antifa follows with them. Antifa are the rioters … We went to the war memorial; I am a veteran of Vietnam … We are here to protect our war memorial and our community.”
But other residents at the meeting felt that protection should be the responsibility of the police department.
“I went to the Black Lives Matter protest and I have a different perspective than a lot of you do,” Kalispell resident and Kalispell Regional Healthcare nurse Tara Lee said. “I am so grateful for our police. I believe in our police force here within town. I didn’t feel that there needed to be excess firearms because I entrust my life with the police who are already here.”
The council agreed on the importance of supporting the police department and felt the event was a learning experience for the future.
“I’m very pleased that when we got to that evening at midnight and checked in and nothing had happened, I was much relieved,” Johnson said. “But I want to carry on some of that conversation because I think there’s a lot that we can learn from this. I think there’s a lot of misinformation or lack of information shared amongst the different people who put in community input, but I do want to have that conversation.”
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