Missoula, MT (KGVO-AM News) - The Missoula County Attorney’s Office charged 29 new criminal complaints this week, which is eight more than last week and significantly higher than the weekly average. According to Chief Deputy County Attorney Matt Jennings, this was the busiest week of 2023. 

“Almost all of those were felonies, but a couple of them were misdemeanor partner or family member assaults,” Jennings said. “Those are domestic violence cases that we take really high priority on. The theme of this week though was property crimes. We had a lot of thefts, some burglaries, some criminal mischiefs, and even an arson case that happened up in Seeley Lake.” 

Jennings said property crimes are really important because they can be a bellwether for things that are going on in the community or going on with people who are not following all the rules of society. 

“It means that they're not thinking clearly and they’re influenced by drugs or they're engaged in other activity because I would highly speculate we don't catch everybody the first time they do something bad or wrong, it's usually down the road of their criminal behavior,” Jennings said. “We've been catching up on some of that and with our 29 complaints filed this week, we had a very busy week.” 

Several crimes in the past few weeks have involved defendants stealing from places they have previously been trespassed from. Jennings explained why it is difficult to deal with those repeat offenders. 

“One of the things that happened in the state of Montana and our local community is we've lost some of our tools to deal with misdemeanor offenses like trespass or shoplifting,” Jennings said. “The city no longer is using a misdemeanor probation program. We used to have the ability to have some oversight over people who were in that category and make sure that they were on track. Our legislature, a few years ago, also got rid of any jail time for a first-offense theft. That means somebody can steal something that's under $1500 and if it's their first time, if they haven't been convicted of it before, police can't even arrest them.” 

Jennings said we have a very small number of people in our community who commit a very large portion of our property crimes. He said that means that they are returning to the same place again, and again, and again, and are stealing constantly. 

“If somebody is trespassed from a facility and they're stealing, that can be a burglary charge,” Jennings said. “What's challenging our criminal justice system is not long ago if the dollar amounts were low we could still resolve those as misdemeanors. It's quick, we could get them on probation, we could fine them, and they'd even get some jail time if they kept doing it. But we've lost some of those tools. I think one of the reasons we're seeing a rise in a lot of felony property crimes is because we've lost the ability to deal with people at the beginning of some of their criminal behavior and they're continuing to escalate their behavior and now get felony convictions.” 

Jennings says that ends up being worse for the community because we end up having more crime. He thinks it is worse for some of those offenders too because some of them need an intervention in whatever is going wrong in their life. 

The Missoula County Attorney’s Office provides a weekly crime report every Friday morning at 9:00 on Talk Back. You can listen to Jennings’ full report below: 

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