The Takeaway from the Kevin Briggs Fiasco

Whenever a significant event occurs within a community, it is always vital to pause and reflect. Retrospect ensures that mistakes are prevented in the future and successes are repeated. For Bozeman and Montana State University, Kevin Briggs’s escape from the Gallatin County Law and Justice Center, followed by the federal manhunt and local outcries, was all a huge event for the community. It’s time we take a serious look and form our takeaway as a community.

According to an internal review, Briggs was arrested approximately 15 minutes after an assault was reported, although he did put up a significant struggle. He was brought to the Law and Justice Center immediately. That is where this story should have ended. Briggs remained in an interview room at the  Law and Justice Center for a few hours, restrained and watched by officers. The internal review then reveals that the escape of Kevin Briggs was the fault of one unnamed officer. This officer, who was responsible for ensuring Briggs remained in the interview room, made an assumption and, as assumptions usually are, it was a remarkably poor one.

After overhearing bits and pieces of a conversation between other personnel on duty, this officer came to the conclusion that Briggs was to be immediately taken to the detention center, and decided his responsibility of watching Briggs were no longer needed. It is important to note that the officer was never a part of the conversation he overheard, and did not consult anyone else before leaving Briggs alone in an unlocked room.

We should all be pretty familiar with the rest of the story. After being left alone for a little over half an hour, Briggs, shackled at the ankles as well as handcuffed, shuffled his way out of the doors of the Law and Justice Center to temporary freedom. It is a wonder unto itself how Briggs went unnoticed until he was able to remove his shackles, although it is not difficult to imagine someone observing a hobbling inmate and simply not acting. It is very likely that Briggs was aided by another person in removing his restraints as well.

What ensued was a fantastic spectacle. Briggs journeyed across the Pacific Northwest, and a federal manhunt was launched. At one point, he was even speculated to have been involved in a series of robberies in Missoula, though it was ultimately determined he was uninvolved, and was reported to have possibly been in San Francisco, headed for Mexico. In the end, Briggs was apprehended in Portland, Ore., after a three week respite from rooms with metal bars. Briggs is now being held in Gallatin County jail on a $1 million bail, and he has plead not guilty to attempted sexual intercourse without consent, aggravated assault, assault on a peace officer, escape and failing to register as a sex offender.

Thankfully, the Bozeman Police Department has been very transparent. The internal review was honest, and it appears that the appropriate measures will be taken to ensure this sort of debacle doesn’t happen in the future. The police department has presented itself in a mostly professional manner following this event as well. Unfortunately, an otherwise calm and cool department-wide demeanor was tarnished with a post on Facebook directed towards the mayor and city commissioners by Bozeman Police Captain Mark Johnson.

Reported March 5 by the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Johnson accused the mayor of “arrogance” and urged citizens to direct their focus on other situations that the city could be handling better, including money drains such as Mandeville property lawsuit and Story Mansion ownership issues. Although these are important issues in our community that deserve fair attention, none of them present an immediate compromise of safety for Bozemanites, and are therefore difficult to compare to the escape of a dangerous inmate. Social media is rarely ever a productive medium for discussion, and the Bozeman Police Department would be wise to refrain from its leadership proclaiming inflammatory statements on social media.

The escape of Kevin Briggs could have gone a lot worse, all things considered. He most certainly could have committed more acts of violence during the three weeks he was on the run. To our knowledge, he did not. It is a good thing that he was found sooner rather than later, but these sorts of events raise important flags to a community.

The point is, citizens should never make the assumption that they can depend on their law enforcement 100 percent of the time, 365 days a year. Law enforcement is a very valuable resource, our taxes pay for that resource and we should be respectful and grateful as a community. Law enforcement is not perfect however, and mistakes are made. Some mistakes are downright stupid and costly, like assuming you can just walk away from your responsibility to watch a dangerous inmate. Some are embarrassing and negligible, like roasting the people you’re supposed to cooperate with for the whole world to see. Perfect track records are impossible for any organization. In this case, it is up to the citizen to ensure their complete safety is guaranteed, and that is by holding your governing bodies accountable for their mistakes and realizing they might not always do their job right. How to fill that gap is up to you.