Chief Bruce Barstad, Renee Jones, Sergeant Tyler Edwards

From left, Misdemeanor Probation Officer Sergeant Tyler Edwards, Victim and Witness Specialist Renee Jones and Police Chief Bruce Barstad.

HANNAH POTES, Gazette Staff

Twice during 2016, the Glasgow Police Department was recognized for its work with victims and its focus on community-based policing.

The department wants to increase services for victims, offenders and prevention programs. But some of the funding the department receives may be in jeopardy under the new presidential administration.

In 2016, the Glasgow Police Department was recognized by the International Association of Chiefs of Police for excellence in victim services.

And, the state Attorney General’s office recognized Glasgow Police Department Victim and Witness Specialist Renee Jones as one of three outstanding crime victim advocates of the year. Jones is on call around the clock to respond to scenes. She is rare in the state, because few police departments have a victim advocate embedded into their staff.

The department has received just over $1 million dollars since 2009 in grant funds to support Jones' position and others. 

Chief of Police Bruce Barstad gives credit to his executive assistant who completes the grant applications the department depends on for funding. Also, an evidence technician doubles as a case manager. These are in addition to the eight officers he commands.

While counties across the state scramble to implement requirements of the new Marsy’s Law, in some cases creating information pamphlets for victims, Glasgow officers are already handing out flash drives containing the information to victims. Jones’ business card also has a QR code to access the same information.

Barstad is concerned for the increase in Jones’ caseload with the implementation of Marsy’s Law and wants to receive funding for a second victim specialist. The department is working to complete several grant applications to help expand services.

The grants are funded through the Montana Board of Crime Control by the Office of Justice Programs, an agency within the Department of Justice. It is one of the programs President Donald Trump has targeted for potential rollbacks as his administration works to reduce federal spending.

The Blueprint for Balance, created by the Heritage Foundation, is being used by Trump's administration as a guide of where these rollbacks should be focused.

The blueprint called for the elimination of the Office of Justice Programs because it takes away the funding responsibility from local agencies. Elimination of the program would save $1.5 billion in 2017.

Meeting the requirements of federal grant programs is more difficult than working with state grants, Barstad said. State grants better address the problems in Montana, rather than the rest of the country. 

But, without grants, the department would not be able to support the programs they have in place, Barstad said.

Jones' job is supported by Tyler Edwards, the department's misdemeanor probation officer, another grant-funded position.

Edwards maintains contact with offenders after sentencing. His work has led to more accountability, reduction in recidivism and more safety for victims. In 2014, Edwards was monitoring more than 30 offenders.

Jones and Edwards have a door connecting their offices. While Edwards tracks the compliance of misdemeanor offenders, Jones supports the victims and witnesses involved.

Jones has seen an increase in victim reporting and follow through.

Jones works with anywhere between 100 to 150 victims a year, in addition to traveling around the state for child forensic interviews. Both Barstad and Jones work as child forensic interviewers for Valley, Phillips and Sheridan counties.

The whole department works to have positive interaction with the kids they work with. The police hope to prevent those kids from becoming involved in the criminal justice system in the future, Jones said.

Those are the long-term investments of this type of work, she said.

“We have a special team of people here,” Barstad said. “We want to keep that going.”  

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Justice reporter for The Billings Gazette.