Broken Windows Policing in Missoula May Require a Bigger Jail
Missoula is looking at the possibility of spending 12 million dollars to increase the holding capacity of our county jail.
Jason Kowalski, the Sheriff’s Captain who oversees the jail, and Fred Van Valkenburg, our worthless head of the Missoula County Attorney’s Office, have conflicting perceptions on the non-violent residents of the jail:
Sheriff’s Capt. Jason Kowalski explained that inmates with mental health and addiction issues are consistently placed in cells where they shouldn’t be housed, and maximum security is full all the time. He said one day in September, the jail was 15 women over the 45-bed limit.
“It’s stressing me out beyond belief,” Kowalski said.
In the past, Missoula County relied on other counties to house the overflow, but that’s not an option now. According to Kowalski and other jail officials, overcrowding conditions are the norm in every county in Montana, and at state facilities too. Montana’s jails are packed to the limit and simply too full to handle Missoula’s consistent overflow, they said.
But there’s also a question of nonviolent criminals getting jail time for minor crimes like a probation violation or driving on a suspended license. Kowalski said that’s a big problem, and both city and county courts are incarcerating petty criminals.
“Those cases are there where a transient has a $50 fine and can’t pay it,” Curtiss said.
Not so, said Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg.
“Ninety-eight percent of the people who are in jail are there because they need to be,” he said.
If people are going to jail for nonviolent, minor crimes, the city – not the county – is sending them there, he said.
While Jason is acknowledging the real scope of the problem, Fred the windbag is doing what he does best: avoiding any responsibility by pointing fingers. He is also acknowledging that 2% of the jail population doesn’t need to be there. I’m not sure where Fred gets his figures, but there are clearly people in jail who are there because they are poor, mentally ill, and/or addicts. And why are they there? Because of a failed approach of policing petty crimes called Broken Windows.
Broken Windows was first established in New York and received undue credit for a drop in crime rates. Broken Windows is also credited with creating the conditions possible for the gentrification of Times Square, and now Los Angeles wants a piece. In a Truth Out article titled Policing for Wealth, some familiar sounding aspirations are articulated by the business interests:
Downtown Los Angeles, once dilapidated and almost totally neglected by the city, has been gentrifying rapidly since the late 1990s, when the city passed an adaptive-reuse ordinance that encouraged developers to transform old buildings into lofts and boutique shops.
Developers are consciously following a precedent set by New York. “Right now, Downtown [Los Angeles] is like Brooklyn, but that’s going to change. This is going to be Manhattan,” said one prominent developer to GQ.
Leading the Manhattanization of Downtown is the area’s main business lobby, the Central City Association (CCA), which sees broken windows-style policing as an essential component of development – especially in “cleaning up” Skid Row, a gritty 50-square block area that is home to thousands of homeless people.
“Downtown’s continued revitalization requires consistent enforcement and prevention of low-level crimes that breed both negative perceptions and actual incidence of larger crimes,” reads a CCA manifesto called “Downtown 2020: Roadmap to LA’s Future.” It goes on to declare that the CCA will “lobby for . . . reinforcing the broken windows approach to policing.”
The Los Angeles Police Department’s (LAPD) first full-scale implementation of broken windows policing happened in 2006, when Bill Bratton was serving as its police chief. That year, the CCA, in concert with another business lobby in the downtown area, the Central City East Association, successfully lobbied City Hall to send a 50-officer task force into Skid Row. According to reports, most apprehended under the campaign were taken in on drug charges and minor offenses like sitting on the sidewalk. The vast majority arrested were homeless people, many of whom suffered from drug addiction and mental illness.
While a subsequent lawsuit countered the overt police aggression, broken windows continued to guide the LAPD under Bratton until he left in 2009. The strategy’s ghost lives on under the reign of Bratton’s successor, current LAPD Police Chief Charlie Beck.
Sound familiar Missoula?
So instead of funding treatment options, or looking at actual humane, cost-saving approaches, like housing first, some people want a bigger jail to absorb the costly consequences of broken windows policing. I say costly because the nightly rate to detain an individual is around $110 dollars.
So as some businesses downtown sell single cans of malt liquor to homeless people, then complain about public intoxication and aggressive panhandling, the cost of trying to insulate downtown from societal failures to address mental illness and addiction will continue ballooning.
Who is going to pay for all this?