Another Balanced Report On Brawling Transients
Two days ago, in the afternoon, a rather large police response occurred downtown. It resulted in three people being arrested, one of them zapped with a taser. There is footage on the internets (KPAX) but I’m not going to include it in this post, because it’s how the story is described in words I’d like to look at; words like “brawl” and “rumble”…
MISSOULA – Police say alcohol was the source of a brawl in downtown Missoula on Tuesday which was captured on video. The rumble didn’t end until police brought out their Tasers.
Three people were arrested and one was tased on Tuesday after police say a fight broke out over a bottle of alcohol.
The three were taken to the jail without further incident and they’re all facing misdemeanor charges.
Police Sergeant Jerry Odlin said, “During the incident there were approximately 30 people on either side of the street yelling — some people in support of us, some people in support of the transients, wanting us to just leave them alone.”
First, I have to ask: how do reporters determine who qualifies as a “transient” in this town? I’ve long had a problem with how that term gets thrown around in local media. Now, according to this story, a transient-on-transient fight over a bottle of booze escalated into lots of cops and a crowd of 30 people on two opposing sides, shouting support.
Here’s the next paragraph:
He added that incidents like this are rare, especially during the day, but when they do, it becomes dangerous: “The longer we stay in that situation the worse it can possibly be, because people will feed off of that behavior, so we try to get the situation handled as quickly as possible, but we do it as safely as possible.”
The turn in the next paragraph is important, because what is reportedly rare, according to a police Sergeant, is about to get insinuated as much more prevalent, though only one business person came forward with specific examples, and a total number of businesses contacted by the reporter is not cited:
Almost every business this reporter spoke with could mention an incident where someone had to call police to resolve a problem involving transients. One woman who works downtown said she started carrying pepper spray after being chased and harassed by a homeless man.
Some businesses didn’t want to go on camera, but employees told us they’ve seen homeless people fighting, throwing up and urinating on sidewalks, vandalizing their property, and chasing away customers.
Matt Maddox, a manager at Sushi Hana, said he sees intoxicated homeless people causing problems.
“Some of them get aggressive, they try to ask you for money and sometimes no; is not a good answer for them,” he said. “It just doesn’t look that good when there is four or five people sitting out front passing around a paper bag full of booze.”
What about that aggressive solicitation ordinance? Did criminalizing aggressive panhandling not fix the problem?
In the final paragraph, there’s a hint as to why this situation got almost unmanageable, and dangerous:
Missoula police normally have an officer patrolling downtown on foot, and that position is currently open. Some businesses said having an officer present downtown does make a difference because they know that help is just around the corner.
That help is described in much greater detail in this article from nearly 3 years ago. It’s a great article describing why this position worked (hint: it takes the right person), so read it all, but for the sake of illustrating why budget constraints matter, I’d like to highlight this:
Pifari’s position as the dedicated downtown police officer was born of a recent agreement between the Missoula Police Department and the downtown Business Improvement District, which has long wanted a seasonal police officer dedicated to patrolling the downtown area.
In recent years as instances of disorderly conduct, aggressive panhandling and other public nuisances have risen to the fore, downtown business owners hoped the police department would ramp up its vigilance.
Budgetary shortfalls and staffing constraints have made those requests difficult to fulfill, said Police Chief Mark Muir. And although the Police Department has always maintained a downtown presence, cutting an officer loose to patrol Missoula’s city center full time just hasn’t been possible.
Until last month, when the BID agreed to fund a temporary seasonal position for a two-month trial period.
I’m going to have to leave it at that, because that’s where work begins.