Tryon ‘Sets The Record Straight’

After seeing someone named Ed Caffrey ‘quote’ me incorrectly on public news sites twice over the past week regarding the Great Falls Crime Task Force, I decided it was time to set the record straight.

The following comment was attributed to Mr. Caffrey on the Great Falls Tribune Facebook page; I simply thought Caffrey was misremembering something I said. Quoting Caffrey:

“In conclusion, I supported and voted for Mr. Tryon. I did so because of his campaign statements about Supporting/helping the average GF citizen, and curbing the waste of our tax dollars. HIS PREVIOUS STATEMENT: “This task force will not recommend anything that raises taxes.”

But then earlier today I saw that Caffrey made the almost exact same false claim on this blog’s (E-City Beat) Facebook page.

I immediately contacted ECB and requested that they ask Caffrey to provide the citation for the false quote attributed to me that he is spreading on local news media sites.

Nowhere have I ever ‘PROMISED’ that the Task Force will not recommend “anything that raises taxes”. That is a fabrication. Period.

You can Google, goggle, search until the cows come home, read every article written on the subject of the Great Falls Task Force, and sweep the interwebs with a fine-tooth comb and never once will you find the ‘quote’ that Caffrey attributes to me.

Why? Because I never said it.

I have been abundantly clear and the record proves without a doubt that I have never and would never even imply that I could make any such guarantees or ‘promises’ regarding the recommendations of the Task Force, of which I am a non-voting, ex-officio member.

Using quotations marks and specific attributions meant to mislead the public is dishonest. I don’t mind if someone disagrees with me or has honest questions about what I say, but I don’t appreciate blatant misrepresentation of the truth.

Great Falls Crime Task Force To Begin Drafting Recommendations

The Great Falls Crime Task Force has been meeting on a bi-weekly basis since the first week in June and so far the meetings have been mostly informational presentations giving members, and the public, a solid foundational understanding of the scope and issues involved related to local crime and the local criminal justice system.

The Task Force will begin drafting it’s recommendations at it’s August 9 meeting.

In April, the Great Falls City Commission passed Resolution 10395, which sets a timeline for “…having draft recommendations available for public review and comment no later than August 2021, and a final recommendation to present to the City Commission no later than September 2021.”

Although the recommendations put forward by the task force are an important first step, the process will include several phases, including public vetting of the set of recommendations and public hearings and comment period for specific recommendations as they come before the City Commission for deliberation and votes.

All task force meetings have been and will continue to be open to public attendance, comment and input both in-person and written. You can find meeting time and place details on the City’s website here.

As we begin drafting recommendations I thinks it’s important to continue encouraging and soliciting public input, because the best ideas and solutions usually bubble up rather than trickle down.

With that in mind, I would like to provide a framework for the kinds of recommendations that will be most useful and effective going forward.

Resolution 10395 calls for “…specifics and actionable recommendations that are within the scope, authority, and financial ability of the City Commission, City Manager, and general public.”

So any recommendation must contain a specific action which can be undertaken by one or more of these entities. Here I’m including examples of the kind of actions these entities normally undertake.

Great Falls City Commission

  • Passing city ordinances and resolutions
  • Fiscal year budget decisions and recommendations for the City
  • Initiatives, declarations and setting yearly priorities and general direction
  • Establishing advisory boards and appointing members
  • Approving municipal ballot levies

City Manager/Administration and Departments

  • Department policies and priorities, GFPD, Legal etc
  • Personnel decisions
  • Budget recommendations
  • Facilitating  communication and collaboration with other jurisdictions, County, State etc

General Public

  • Business, NPO and private individual safety and crime prevention measures

So, if these are the target entities for recommendations, what are some categories to consider that would provide a general direction for the substance of the recommendation?

The most effective recommendation would address and articulate a specific problem or issue related to local crime and the local criminal justice system (law enforcement, corrections, courts) and would seek to mitigate that problem and explain how it would do so.

Here are some ideas that suggest the broader categories from which “actionable recommendations” would flow (certainly not comprehensive, but a start):

  • Budget priorities and resource allocation
  • Public communication and education
  • Collaboration and partnerships with other government jurisdictions and private entities
  • City Code and resolutions
  • City Department policies and priorities

Directing the specific, actionable recommendations to the target entities will really help to focus the effort and clarify how to proceed after the Task Force submits it’s final work.

Please feel free to contact me or the Great Falls Crime Task Force at any time with your input and suggestions.

Great Falls Crime Task Force Members Approved By City Commission

At last Tuesday’s Great Falls City Commission meeting we approved the following local folks as appointees to the newly formed Great Falls Crime Task Force:

  • Mary Lynne Billy – Indian Family Health Clinic
  • Shawna Jarvey – transition consultant, Benefis Health
  • Nichole Griffith – Victim Witness Program
  • Sandra Guynn – chair of Neighborhood Council of Councils and president of Crime Stoppers
  • Sara Sexe – city attorney
  • Jeff Newton – Great Falls Police Department chief
  • Jesse Slaughter – Cascade County sheriff
  • John Parker – District Court judge
  • Shane Etzwiler – Chamber of Commerce

I’m excited to get ball rolling on this project. The task force will be starting regular meetings in the next couple of weeks, and of course those meetings will be open to public.

In fact, public input will be essential if we expect this work to produce quality recommendations for more effectively addressing crime issues in Great Falls.

In addition the task force will need to stay focused on two things in my opinion:

  1. Making it our priority to protect the taxpaying, law-abiding citizens of Great Falls rather than pretending that criminals are actually the victims.
  2. Thinking about how we can solve problems within the scope of the City of Great Falls’ ability and resources.

If we keep our expectations realistic and understand that the City and this task force can’t and won’t solve the macro problems of homelessness, addiction, and mental illness then I’m optimistic that we can make real progress in doing more to fulfill the City’s main responsibility: to protect law-abiding, taxpaying Great Falls citizens and their property from crime and violence.

Letter Of Advice For Great Falls Crime Task Force

Editors note: the following is a letter sent to City Commissioner Rick Tryon and forwarded to E-City Beat concerning the Great Falls Crime Task Force and which we are publishing with permission from Mr. Gunderson.

My name is Jim Gunderson. I am writing to you regarding the soon-to-be commissioned Crime Task Force.

While no longer residing in Great Falls I still have many friends there and keep up on the local news and events via social media. Given what I used to do for a living there, I’ve been following with great interest the challenges that Great Falls is facing when it comes to crime, drugs and addiction as well as what is being done to address these issues.

For background purposes: I lived in Great Falls from 1994 – 2002.

Most of that time I worked in the Mental Health field, most notably at the Regional Jail conducting psychological evaluations, group sessions, and individual crisis intervention.

I also served on a committee with the Chamber of Commerce and sat on the Board of Directors for the Business Improvement District.

I see several issues that the Task Force needs to address. These challenges are not unique to Great Falls, as they are present in the vast majority of cities across our great nation.

If the Task Force is willing to tackle these matters, Great Falls could not only significantly reduce their crime and drug issues but could also be a role model for other cities in Montana and cities throughout the USA.

Many of these issues are intertwined. I’ve listed these issues below. They are not in any particular order, as it will be up to the Task Force to triage and prioritize.

Issue One: “The Revolving Door”

This is an issue not only in Great Falls but in virtually every community. We have the ‘frequent flyers’ of the jail/prison system. The repeat offenders, who, for a variety of reasons, keep coming in and out of the system. The question becomes, “What is the department of ‘corrections’ doing to address this issue?”

When I worked at the Regional Jail, we used to joke that we should turn the “L” block to the “(family name)” block and the “G” Block to the “(family name)” block. I swear that is where they held their family reunions. This goes back to systemic failure on the part of the ‘system’ (Corrections and Education). More on these below.

Issue Two: “The Enabling Community”

There is a FINE line between helping someone with a given problem (like drugs/alcohol, even poverty) and enabling their behavior.

What Great Falls, (and most communities) have are various non- and for-profit entities that have ZERO financial incentives to help their clients become healthy, self-sufficient and get out of ‘the system’.

They foster dependence on their services to get either billable hours or secure funding. This funding is often on the backs of taxpayers.

This is a HUGE issue in the drug/alcohol treatment and poverty resistance industry. This concept also applies to the welfare system.

Issue Three: Law Enforcement

Let me be perfectly clear on this. I have the GREATEST RESPECT for our men and women in law enforcement. This item is not a direct indictment on those that serve, rather it is criticism of the system in which they serve.

In recent years law enforcement has been more about arrests and ticketing than it has been in community policing. While arrests and tickets give hard numbers to take to the City Council, County Commissioners and the State for sources of funding, this single method of policing does precious little in the overall decrease in crime. (Especially when coupled with Items Four, Five and Six below).

Defunding the police is also not the solution to this issue.

Item Four: “The Slap on the Wrist”

Out of a desire to not turn minor offenders into major criminals, many courts use things like ‘drug court’ or other minor penalties in an effort to curtail future criminal behavior. In certain cases, I agree, this works, but NOT as a general practice, especially with more serious crimes.

Rudy Giuliani was spot on when he went after crime in NYC: concerted effort to go after the ‘little’ crimes to curtail the major ones. (This is especially true with repeat offenders. It is only a matter of time before most of them escalate to more serious, and often violent, crimes.)

Item Five: “Consequences”

This dovetails with Item Four. Judges’ hands are usually tied to what consequences they can give out during sentencing – usually fines, community service or jail time.

They need to have the ability to employ more ’creative’ and behaviorally appropriate consequences.

For example, if someone gets convicted for vandalism they should have to clean/scrub by HAND their vandalism and repaint or refinish as appropriate AT THEIR EXPENSE.

This will take efforts by the city council, county commissioners, and state legislatures to make this happen. I can tell you that behaviorally, relative consequences, (sometimes called ‘natural consequences’), are far more effective at curtailing unwanted behavior than community service, fines and jail time.

Item Six: “The Lawyers”

District Attorneys – It seems that DA’s only want the cases they can easily win, or the big, sexy, publicly-known cases. These get easy convictions and bolster their numbers so they can climb the ladder. These cases give ‘good optics” but does next to nothing for the overall crime rate.

Defense Attorneys – I recently saw a billboard ad for an attorney that stated, “You may have committed that crime, but that doesn’t mean you’re guilty!” Yes, every defendant is entitled to competent, thorough representation.

However, Attorneys absolutely know when their client is guilty, but their “job” is to get them off on a technicality, procedural error, or cast reasonable doubt. This only contributes to the increasing crime rates, hubris of criminals, and exploding drug problems. Admittedly, this is a tough issue to address, but it needs to be looked as a part of the overall picture.

Item Seven: “Education”

When I worked in the prison system at both the Regional Jail in Great Falls and the South Dakota State Penitentiary, I saw two commonalities with the vast majority of inmates.

A. Low level of education (usually elementary or jr. high)

B. Lack of problem-solving skills.

As we all should know, one of the biggest factors in the success of an individual is to graduate high school. Many of the inmates I worked with were dropouts, some as early as third grade.

Our education system is fatally flawed. Our kids are no longer being taught HOW to think but rather are being told WHAT to think.

This must change and is a fundamental piece of the crime reduction puzzle.

Problem solving skills were also a major factor amongst inmates. Consider the following. Someone has $500.00 in the bank but has $1000.00 in bills and expenses. I think we can all agree that this is a problem.

For someone who have even basic-level problem solving abilities, they will do one or a combination of several things: get a loan, talk to their creditors to make other arrangements, get a second job, or sell something.

Someone who has poor problem-solving skills will go rob a liquor store to get the other $500.00 they need, creating a bigger problem. Sure, they have solved the first problem, but at what cost?

A serious look into what the Department of Corrections has in place for programming needs to be done as well. Most DoCs have some programming in place, but what is the recidivism rate? (refer to issue one). How successful are these programs? In my tenure working in the prison system, the Department of Corrections does little to ‘correct’ but rather to ‘house’ and has the guise of programming to keep up the illusion that they are “correcting”.

Item Eight: “Parents”

Frederick Douglass stated, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

This is 100% true. Everyone like the effects of discipline, but no one likes to discipline. It’s hard, but it is necessary to build people of strength, character and integrity. Parents that blame teachers, cops, judges, etc. for their kids’ problems need only to look in the mirror to identify the usual root of the problem.

I’m not advocating consequences that are out of line, like beating children for spilling juice on the rug. I am advocating parents setting up boundaries, implementing consequences and doing so consistently.

Item Nine: “The Offender/Addict”

The actual criminal and/or addict is also a piece of this puzzle, perhaps the most important piece. There is an old joke in the psych field.

“How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb? Only one, but the light bulb has to want to change.”

The same goes for the offenders/addicts. In many cases there is no reason or desire for them to change. (refer to item two)

There is no “silver bullet” to address the issues of crime, poverty, drug and alcohol abuse. This is because there is no single cause for these issues. These problems are the results of a number of factors and thus the solution requires a multi-faceted approach.

This is a herculean task, yet one worth tackling. It will mean bucking the status quo, and I believe it’s time to do just such a thing. It’s also time to check the egos and politics at the door and focus on making substantive changes.

Thank you for your time in reading this, and for your efforts in addressing crime in Great Falls.

Jim Gunderson