Missoula, MT (KGVO-AM News) - Newly elected Missoula County Sheriff Jeremiah Petersen gave his first press conference on Wednesday afternoon in the Sophie Moiese Meeting Room in the Missoula County Courthouse.

Sheriff Petersen Gives his First Press Conference

Petersen, a 21-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Office, also spent 17 years with Missoula County Search and Rescue.

One of the first questions for the new sheriff dealt with the rising crime that he said has accompanied Missoula County’s burgeoning population.

Dealing with Drug Crime will be a Priority for the New Sheriff

“With growth, unfortunately, there are certainly positives and negatives,” said Sheriff Petersen. “I think one of the negatives that we are seeing with the growth in the last couple of years is the rise in crime and unfortunately, that crime has become serious crime. And I think that all ties back with the drug issue. Our jail is near capacity, and unfortunately, it's become essentially a felony jail. We're housing only those people that are committing violent crimes, and that is certainly a concern. The more people that come here, the more those crime rates are going to go up.”

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Petersen said one of the biggest challenges to Missoula law enforcement is the ever present and growing drug problem.

“I think that those drug issues unfortunately create the persons crimes, and they create the property thefts,” he said. “And so I think it's vital for the sheriff's office to continue to work with our federal partners like the HIDTA the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area where there's the joint drug task force to try and identify those DTO’s or drug trafficking organizations and to dismantle them and start from the ground up because I think that if we can do that, we're going to reduce those persons crimes and those property crimes.”

Petersen is Working with the State to Reduce the Number of Inmates at the Jail

Asked about the popular notion that the Missoula County Detention Center has become somewhat of a ‘revolving door’ for repeat offenders, Petersen said the jail also currently houses inmates awaiting a space at the Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge.

“At the detention facility we house a lot of Montana State prisoners that have been sentenced and are awaiting going to Deer Lodge,” he said. “And so, working with all of those people to come up with ideas on how to get those individuals out so that the jail is only for those people that are committing serious crimes is key. The jail diversion program that the sheriff implemented has certainly helped. We currently have a reentry coordinator that works for the sheriff's office that again, is trying to get those lower level offenders out of the system so that it isn't part of that revolving door.”

Wrapping up, Petersen said he and his staff are excited about meeting the challenge of patrolling a very large area like Missoula County.

“I'm excited about the future,” he said. “I think we have a great group of people. And I'm excited for them because we've had a lot of changes, losing our Sheriff, our Undersheriff, and our patrol captain and so they're getting the opportunity to step up and I think that they're going to do that. This is a great place to live and to work for the citizens of Missoula County. They deserve the utmost and safety and service and I think that the sheriff's office here will and can provide that.”

Petersen said he has instituted a ‘participatory leadership style’ that entrusts his department heads to do their jobs without excessive supervision, trusting them to get the job done.

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