Montana Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association


This Association was formed in Miles City in 1929.

Purpose: The object of the Association is to bring together all persons qualified for membership, for a more mutual acquaintance for interchange of thoughts, the apprehension of criminals and for such other purposes as the majority may from time to time designate.

It would be much too lengthy to describe in detail every meeting, convention, or accomplishment or the names of those who worked so hard in the Association over the years. In lieu of that, we shall bring into focus what we consider the major milestones and accomplishments of the Association over the past twenty or so years.

1. When the Association was first formed all officers and board members were sheriffs, and it remained that way until June 26, 1970 when, at the annual convention in Kalispell, the constitution was amended to allow deputies to hold office. Deputies Les Gee of Gallatin County, Jim Burnes of Cascade County, Buzz Davis of Beaverhead County, Chuck Rhodes of Flathead County and John McEnaney of Silver Bow County were the first deputies elected to the Board of Directors. SINCE THEN MANY DEPUTIES HAVE BEEN ELECTED TO HOLD EVERY OFFICE INCLUDING PRESIDENT AND IT REMAINS SO TO THIS DAY.

2. Probably the largest legislative victory of the Association is the Deputy Tenure Act. Work on this project actually started in the middle 50's, and for many years met unbelievable opposition not only in the legislature but with many sheriffs. We were attempting to change a custom, a tradition, a practice that was prevalent for many, many years, that a sheriff could hire and fire at will because of political reasons. Every newly elected sheriff more or less brought his broom with him and cleaned out everyone. On March 2, 1967, the Governor signed into law this Act, removing deputies from the "Spoils System," and the law has since been updated to include every county. The Association fought this long hard battle ALONE AND WON. Just a few years ago, several deputies in Lewis and Clark County were dismissed by a newly elected sheriff. Thanks to the Association sponsored Tenure Act and the Association's backing of the deputies, the courts ordered the sheriff to reinstate them.

3. Recognizing the need for modern communications, the Association's representatives initiated and followed through legislation, which was signed into law on March 7, 1967, creating the Montana Law Enforcement Teletype Communications Act, which provided for the Law Enforcement Teletype Communications Committee to be appointed by the Governor. Many sheriffs and deputies have served on the Board which oversees the system.

4. Again, this Association was the first law enforcement body to recognize the need for training and education and to further this cause, we introduced and successfully passed, on February 2, 1959, the Montana Law Enforcement Academy Act, which not only created the Academy but also the Montana Law Enforcement Academy Advisory Council to oversee the operation of this fine school. Again many sheriffs and deputies, when appointed, have served this Board well. This first class graduated in 1959.

5. This Association scored many other victories through legislative work, i.e., by law counties must provide vehicle, liability insurance, and other items. It was again through many years of work, that our persistence in the legislature resulted in the creation of the Sheriff's Retirement System, which incidentally is one retirement system that is actually sound and projected to remain so in the future.

6. Pay and Benefits - After long years of work, meetings and research our Association led the way for bringing up to standards the pay of sheriffs and deputies. In fact, most of the present officers and directors actively worked long hours on this cause. Admittedly, the pay package fell a little short of our expectations, but considering what we had before, we felt it was a major victory. The legislature would not agree to sheriffs getting longevity pay, only deputies. Nor would they agree to pay for mandatory overtime. We had to make concessions to obtain what we thought best. We have fought for years to continue to have our pay set by the legislature and not at the whim of local governments who would then have virtual control of the sheriff, his deputies and their work.

7. The MSPOA assisted in starting the K-9 Training Center at Belt, Montana in 1967 and although the center is administered by the Cascade County Sheriff's Office, the Association has financially contributed many thousands of dollars to assist in the project, as they have contributed funds for scholarships to needy individuals throughout the State enrolled in the Criminal Justice System.

8. Over the years, there have been several instances where sheriffs, through no particular fault of their own, have been made defendants in law suits by virtue of carrying out their duties, and necessarily had to seek legal counsel to assist. Particular incidents such as these occurred in Cascade County, Missoula County and Judith Basin County among others. Payment of these legal fees would have been a severe personal financial blow to these sheriffs, but the Association stepped in and paid these costs.

9. Until a few years ago, sheriffs were required to pay the costs of all food for prisoners, based on a sliding scale of the number of inmates. Thanks to the Association's efforts in the legislature, ALL food and necessary items for prisoners housed in county jails is a legal and legitimate charge against the county which the county commissioners must pay. No longer do sheriffs have to scrimp and save, and even pay out of their own pockets, the costs of these items.

10. No one is more familiar with the problems in recent years concerning county jails, prisoners, jail lawsuits, etc. than every sheriff in Montana. In fact, many of them or members of their staffs are presently in litigation over these matters. The Association, in an effort to counter these suits, established a Montana Jails Standards Committee, headed by Sheriff Pete Howard of Teton County. Much work has yet to be done, but the Standards this Association has implemented will provide legal defenses for sheriffs against these frivolous and sometimes costly lawsuits. But they are serious to the sheriff's personnel that must defend themselves. The Association has had to fight this battle alone.

All in all, primarily the Association's work is done by its officers and directors. Those elected these offices serve without pay, they put in long hours, and for the most part, pay their own expenses, but every deputy and sheriff ever elected has done his job well for which every member should be grateful. This association needs and requests the support of every sheriff, undersheriff and deputy to meet the challenge of the future, not only to gain, through legislative efforts, a constant upgrading of our work and pay, but to oppose those forces in the state who seek to undermine our rapport with the legislature, our communities and other law enforcement associations.