The Lake County Commissioners have been engaged in a classic misinformation campaign regarding public safety needs. Rather than providing leadership and problem solving, the commissioners embarked on a fear campaign based upon dated criminal statistics, inaccurate, or misleading data comparisons, suppositions and in some cases – fairy tales, with input and support from people whose agendas are not focused on public safety. The commissioner’s clear intent is to sow confusion around U.S. Senate Bill S. 3019, Montana Water Rights Protection Act, which does not contain any public safety language.
There are legitimate public safety needs and challenges in the county, but many existed unaddressed, or under addressed, for years. Earlier deficiencies in the county jail were only corrected after a court order. State (sentenced) prisoners in county jails has been a national problem for decades. Geography and transport opportunities can play various roles in criminal activity, but commissioner’s unsupported statements of crooks traveling to Lake County to commit crimes is simply more fearmongering.
In case the commissioners missed the trends developing across Montana and the United States, concepts of confinement are evolving. Litigation regarding bail and costs are driving change.
The public safety matters are complicated, and many cannot be solved by the commissioners alone. Most taxes, Public Law 280, sentencing, probation, parole and state prisoners in county jails are matters for the Legislature with input from the county.
The Commissioners must work collectively with the CSKT and U.S. governments to constructively resolve jurisdictional problems. Recognition and understanding of the Hellgate Treaty would be a good starting point for the commissioners.
Lastly, public safety issues are usually led by the chief law enforcement official of a jurisdiction, but that does not seem to be the case in Lake County. Where is Sheriff Bell?
—John W. Colledge III, Arlee