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Rice seeking three-mile jurisdiction extension

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By Travis Jenkins

Great Falls Police Chief Steven Rice hopes the third time will be the charm when it comes to a three-mile extension of his department’s jurisdiction.

At last week’s meeting of Great Falls Town Council, Rice was discussing a robbery and shooting that took place at the Last Call bar. He said his investigation of that incident would have been greatly aided by the ability to work just outside the town limits.

“It would help us in the performance of our job here,” Rice said.

Rice has brought the three-mile extension idea to the council twice before. It was passed unanimously the first time, but Rice said Carlisle Roddey, then county supervisor, declined to take the proposal to county council. When Shane Stuart was elected supervisor, Rice brought the idea up again in 2015. It passed Great Falls Town Council 6-1, but was voted down by Chester County Council 5-1. One of the votes against was now-former representative of District Two (which includes Great Falls) Archie Lucas. At the time, he said some Great Falls residents had expressed a concern to him about taxpayer money and town resources being used to fight crime outside the town. Rice said some also seemed to be worried that the extension would be used to set up “speed traps.”

“It’s never been our intention to expand traffic enforcement,” Rice said.

He said it was not even his intention to actively work the additional area at all times. When he pitched the idea to the county four years ago, Rice said one-third of all crime in Great Falls is committed by people who live outside the town limits. The vast majority of those live just outside the town limits. Many people who live on the outskirts of town work in Great Falls or have friends and family there and visit often. The jurisdictional restrictions placed on him can often make his job more difficult, Rice said. He said then that if he wanted to conduct a search on a home outside of Great Falls, he had to summon the sheriff's office, wait for someone to arrive and then have a deputy stand side-by-side with him as he worked. He said that was ineffective, especially in instances where time could be of the essence. Also, he said if the sheriff's office doesn't have a deputy close enough to provide a timely response to areas just outside Great Falls, his department could potentially help fill the void. He also noted at the time that the county had approved a nearly identical deal with Fort Lawn.

With some new members on town council and a new District Two representative (Mike Vaughn), Rice said it seems like a good time to make another run at the extension, which he said Chester County Sheriff Alex Underwood has supported in the past.

The council did not take a vote on the matter last week but the consensus seemed to be that they would do so in the future and there seemed to be support for the idea. An agreement on the extension would actually be between the town and the county, not between the police department and sheriff’s department. If entered, either party could terminate the deal at any time. The extension would not extend into neighboring Fairfield or Lancaster Counties and would nearly match the existing three-mile Great Falls Fire district extension.