Great Falls Police Department releases year-end review


The doctrine of qualified immunity has been used to protect police from civil lawsuits and trials. Here’s why it was put in place.


The Great Falls Police Department recently released its 2019 year-end report. You can find the full review at

Here’s what you need to know.


A new schedule and technology updates helped GFPD do its job more efficiently in 2019. According to the report, response times for calls decreased by 17%, saving 984 hours in wait time over the course of the year.

Patrol officers tested a new software program, but GFPD decided that not all its capabilities were necessary and the equipment was too expensive. Officers were instead issued a total of 28 smartphones through a contract with Firstnet, which will be reevaluated this year.

The Directed Enforcement Team (DET) was an asset last year, addressing crime trends such as problem houses, problem individuals, auto thefts and assisting patrol with search warrants and DUI enforcement.

The patrol bureau hopes to continue using the Data-Driven Approaches to Crime and Traffic Safety (DDACTS) model to decrease crashes and property crimes in the greater downtown area.

Officers will continue to receive training as schedules allow for more training hours.

GFPD is working to make its High-Risk Unit a regional resource for northcentral Montana.

Law enforcement continues its relationship with the Great Falls Public Schools through the Adopt a School program that allows officers to spend a portion of their shifts in an area elementary school to provide “outreach and security.”

GFPD also plans to expand the DET and will be requesting six new officers in the coming budget year.


The total allotted to GFPD in the 2020 city budget is $14 million, or 11% of the total city budget. Within that amount, 51% went to the patrol bureau.

The 2021 budget was released in July, showing the police department as 12% of the total with 47% of that going to patrol.

These numbers do not include any revenue generated by GFPD and related services.

The current city budget can be found at

Crime Stats

GFPD received more than 48,000 calls for service in 2019, a 5,000-call jump from the previous year.

Total arrests have seen dramatic drops over the last three years due to legislative changes and more misdemeanor offenders being cited and released to keep jail numbers low.

Overall, calls regarding sex crimes saw a decline in 2019.

Areas of major concern, according to GFPD’s report, were auto theft, car break-ins and offenses against child/family.

More: ‘There’s no money:’ Public Safety Town Hall looks at crime in Great Falls

Due to jail overcrowding and safety concerns, police pursuits have been falling since 2017.

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Security cameras in R-pod at the Cascade County Detention Center show inmates sleeping on floor mats in walkways and communal spaces. (Photo: TRACI ROSENBAUM/GREAT FALLS TRIBUNE)

Lt. Doug Otto, GFPD’s Public Information Officer, said the department has followed trends across the country for how police deal with vehicle pursuits. Officers no longer pursue for misdemeanor charges, and traffic stop pursuits are terminated quickly to avoid injuries and property damage.

“There’s a risk versus reward thing that happens with this deal,” he said.

According to Cascade County Attorney Josh Racki, his office completed 42 felony trials last year, and the number of felony cases has been on a five-year climb in Cascade County.


Many investigative positions were vacant at the beginning of 2019 waiting for patrol hiring numbers to get high enough for those positions to be filled.

The investigations bureau saw 252 investigations last year, including five homicides, six adult kidnappings, three arsons, four missing persons and numerous aggravated assaults (including several shootings).

The Cascade County Attorney’s Office has eight homicide trials pending, including three for the Nov. 21, 2019 beating death of 5-year-old Antonio “Tony” Renova and one for a man who allegedly committed a rape, home invasion and homicide by arson — all as separate incidents.

More: Foster family who raised slain 5-year-old explains how system repeatedly failed him

Use of Force

The number of arrests resulting in criminal charges that required use of force stayed steady, and overall use of force has dropped significantly since last year, according to the report.

The most-used types of force in 2019 were physical force and the threatened use of a firearm.

GFPD had one fatal officer-involved shooting in 2019 during a standoff in Shelby that resulted in injuries for two Great Falls officers.

A man accused of a triple homicide was also killed by law enforcement in Great Falls in December 2019, but it was the U.S. Marshals Service that shot the suspect.

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Law enforcement shot and killed a suspect in a triple homicide in Great Falls on Dec. 17, 2019. (Photo: TRACI ROSENBAUM/GREAT FALLS TRIBUNE)

Assaults against police officers and instances of resisting arrest stayed fairly steady versus last year, but cases of resisting arrest have been increasing since 2017.

More: For the right reasons: Opposing views on police reform in Montana

Working with the Center for Mental Health and Alluvion Health, GFPD used the Crisis Response Team (CRT) 60 times in 2019 to assist with individuals in mental health crisis.

So far in 2020, Otto said the CRT has been called out 77 times, and he hopes these numbers will continue to increase.

“We’ve really put emphasis on our officers who come in contact with someone on the street who may be having a mental health crisis that they call the CRT in to help us,” he said, adding that if these individuals can receive the help they need, the police don’t have to pursue the situation further.

More: ‘We have no justice:’ Are Native Americans the forgotten victims of police brutality?

According to the report, GFPD processed seven formal complaints against officers — about half the numbers for 2017 and 2018.

Four of those were resolved as unfounded or exonerated. Two were sustained with qualifications and one was sustained.

An annual complaint review panel consists of the deputy city manager, county attorney and a citizen at large or police commissioner, the report states.

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Shift commanders discuss scheduling at the Great Falls Police Department. (Photo: RION SANDERS/GREAT FALLS TRIBUNE)

GFPD and Race

GFPD’s end-of-year report’s section bases its numbers on the 2010 census, which Police Chief Dave Bowen said does not accurately reflect the percentage of each race pulled over on traffic stops.

Bowen addressed this issue in a news release on July 31 and stated that future reports will use more accurate numbers.

In addition, the release brought up the year-end report’s conclusion that Native American and Hispanic people are less likely to receive a warning instead of a citation compared to whites, African Americans and Asians.

The numbers for the latter three races were roughly 70/30 for warnings versus citations. For Native Americans and Hispanics, the numbers were closer to 50/50.

More: For the right reasons: Opposing views on police reform in Montana

Bowen stated that the top three citations given to Native Americans were no insurance, no driver’s license and no registration. Native Americans received these citations more often than white people committing the same violations.

Anecdotal data, according to Bowen, suggests white people were more likely to have insurance, a license and registration due to a combination of economic disparity and the fact that these documents are not always required for drivers on reservations.

GFPD has not historically tracked which races were contacted most by School Resource Officers (SROs), but Otto said they will begin tracking during the upcoming school year.


According to Otto, prospective officers take written and physical fitness tests and provide a personal statement of their past employment, references, military experience, college education and more.

Successful applicants then undergo an extensive background check that includes multiple references.

“We do a really, really deep dive on folks,” Otto said. “There’s a long process that they have to get through to see if they’re going to get hired with us.”

The process takes upwards of three months. If given a conditional offer, applicants meet with the police commissioner for questioning.

Training includes 12 weeks at the Montana Law Enforcement Academy, 14 weeks of field training and a one-year probationary period from the date of hire.

Sworn officers participated in more than 3,500 hours of additional training in 2019.

GFPD hired for 23 positions last year. Of those, 72% of those hired were white, and the rest were Native American or Alaska Native.

GFPD’s hires were 86% male.

GFPD in Schools

SROs in Great Falls Public Schools received 660 complaints during the 2018-2019 school year.

Otto explained that students or teachers bring information to SROs, who seek teacher and administrative input to determine if law enforcement needs to be involved.

If so, the issue becomes a complaint. A complaint does not necessarily equal charges filed.

SROs stay involved in situations where a law enforcement consequence is necessary, not with situations requiring a school consequence, Otto said.

Numbers at C.M. Russell and Great Falls High schools showed GFHS with 32 more complaints.

East Middle School far outstripped North Middle School with 189 complaints versus 96.

Elementary schools made up almost 40% of all school complaints.

The year-end report states SROs provided 410 hours of “informal counseling to students for everything from personal to school-related problems.

Otto clarified that these contacts have more to do with coaching than counseling, all of which are done with teacher and administration input.

SROs also take training courses through the Office of Public Instruction and the National Association for SROs to learn how to talk to students in crisis, Otto said. Some have also taken forensic interviewing courses and training through the Department of Family Services.

“They are well-trained and well-versed in what they do,” Otto said, “and they have a broad view of what is going on…The goal is to not put kids in the just system if we can help it. We do everything we can to not charge kids in these situations but if we have to, we have to.”

Criminal justice reporter Traci Rosenbaum reports on law enforcement issues for the Tribune. Reach her at or 406-791-1490.

Follow her on Twitter @GFTrib_TRosenba.

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