Does Missoula Need an Intervention?

by lizard

The Missoula County Detention Facility is a jail. It is not a psychiatric unit or a detox center. The staff are not nurses, nor are they mental health professionals.

It would be easy to just point the finger of blame at the detention center staff responsible (or at Sheriff Ibsen, for that matter) for not following protocol in the death of Heather Wasson, a 31 year old woman who died from a seizure brought on by alcohol withdrawal. As a civil matter, the court has done just that:

Missoula County must pay $565,500 in damages to the family of a woman who died of a seizure in the county jail in 2009.

The Missoulian reported ( ) Wednesday a district court jury ruled county officials were mostly responsible for the death of 31-year-old Heather Holly Wasson, who died of an alcohol withdrawal seizure about 36 hours after she was jailed.

Instead, this Missoulian follow-up article—No changes at Missoula County jail, despite inmate’s 2009 death—features a quote worth repeating from Barbara Rodderick, the Missoula jail’s assistant commander:

“The thing the jail was guilty of was being overworked and under-staffed,” Roderick said. “From a taxpayer standpoint, why can’t they look at the whole picture? These are great officers here, but … we are not a hospital. We need a detox center.”

“(Inmates) need to be completely detoxed before coming to the jail,” she added.

Your average Missoula taxpayer can’t see the whole picture because there are multiple system overloads that can’t be explicitly described. The crisis at the jail is just one of them. If you have friends or family who work at St. Pats ER, or Providence, or first responders of any kind, they will tell you about what alcohol and other forms of substance abuse are doing. Warms Springs, the state hospital, is busting at the seams.

I don’t know why there aren’t more stories about what’s going on in some of these places. I guess our local paper needs the space for stuff like this op-ed asking for a second police officer downtown:

Could it be that Missoula has at last made progress in its efforts to crack down on problems downtown?

If the figures shared at last week’s Downtown Business Improvement District’s board of directors meeting are any indication, yes. And now that Missoula has hit upon a response that gets results, we should commit more resources to strengthening it. In fact, we should double it – by adding a second patrol officer dedicated specifically to the downtown area.

The single officer doing this work right now, the Downtown BID learned last week, has issued nearly 700 citations and warnings this year, and made exactly 63 arrests through September. The offenses ranged from eight incidents of public urination to seven acts of aggressive panhandling.

Of course, any regular visitor to the downtown area can tell you that these kinds of problems haven’t been eliminated completely. However, it’s become clear that having an officer assigned just to downtown, in conjunction with other programs, has certainly helped.

Maybe the optics have improved downtown, but the crisis has not.

But hey, what about that 42 million dollar parks bond on the ballot? Yeah parks! And Missoula hasn’t quite found the right number of locally brewed beer flowing in taprooms, so throw in another one downtown. Yeah beer!

Going back to the Missoulian editorial, I found this part curious:

Missoula Police Chief Mike Brady told the board of directors of the Downtown BID that a lot of ongoing problems seem to be linked to the sale of tall cans of alcohol. In response, the board is looking at whether to partner with downtown businesses to restrict their sale.

That’s probably not an especially beneficial approach. We’re willing to bet that the vast majority of consumers who buy these tall cans are law-abiding, and not planning to consume their beverage downtown in any case. Restricting the sale of these particular items would probably just discourage consumers from shopping downtown while doing little to curb the problems caused by alcohol intoxication downtown.

Definitely important to protect the ability of people to buy 24 ounce cans of cheap malt liquor. Some of the stores that sell these fine products start as early as 8am.

I’m up late writing this post because I was awoken to screams and shouts outside my home tonight. I looked out my window and saw a street brawl brewing, at least 20 people in the street and more on sidewalks. I live on a quiet street that has been much less quiet since members of a certain football team moved in nearby.

I wonder how many people drove away drunk once the cops inevitably showed up. Hopefully no one gets killed tonight.

Or raped.

  1. JC

    Local options tax on alcohol to the tune of about quarter per 190 proof fluid ounce, with proceeds going to a local, public detox/treatment facility would be a great start. That’d add about 50 cents to each can of high test malt liquor. Dual purpose: cost increase drives down purchasing ability and consumption, and funds are generated by those who drink and end up needing detox/treatment services.

    Of course, the tax will hit the local businessmen, lawyers, doctors and judges who like to get tipsy, too, and end up creating millions in hidden social costs. Fine by me.

    On another note, driving downtown last night (big, but inevitable mistake) I almost took out two bike riders cruising through the rainy wrong way down Front Street, blowing through a stop sign and going diagonal through the intersection to pull up to a bar. I had to swerve, and almost hit some pedestrians coming out of same bar with drinks in hand jaywalking. F*cking idiots! But let’s put another cop on a daytime walking beat to clean up the daytime optics…

  2. “Punks running wild in the streets”.

    We’re not going to take this anymore!

  3. daniel geary

    And tonight it is very likely that the 42-million-dollar Parks and Trails bond will pass. Interestingly, the two chairmen of the pro-group are both doctors. Missoula loves feel-good projects. KUFM needs to shut down for a year so our pretend liberals can sit in silence and decide if they care more about pet wars or a detox center.

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