The Agenda with the Missoula County Commissioners

Sheriff Jeremiah Petersen: A True Jack of All Trades

November 01, 2023 Missoula County Commissioners Season 4 Episode 3
Sheriff Jeremiah Petersen: A True Jack of All Trades
The Agenda with the Missoula County Commissioners
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The Agenda with the Missoula County Commissioners
Sheriff Jeremiah Petersen: A True Jack of All Trades
Nov 01, 2023 Season 4 Episode 3
Missoula County Commissioners

Did you know the Missoula County Sheriff is the chief law enforcement officer, as well as the coroner, and oversees the office responsible for serving civil paperwork? Did you also know that Sheriff Jeremiah Petersen was on the 1995 Montana Grizzlies national championship football team?

This week, the commissioners spoke with Sheriff Petersen about everything from jury summons to predictions for the Cat-Griz game and how his department is addressing the need for increased deputy patrol in rural areas.

Thank you to Missoula's Community Media Resource for podcast recording support!

Show Notes Transcript

Did you know the Missoula County Sheriff is the chief law enforcement officer, as well as the coroner, and oversees the office responsible for serving civil paperwork? Did you also know that Sheriff Jeremiah Petersen was on the 1995 Montana Grizzlies national championship football team?

This week, the commissioners spoke with Sheriff Petersen about everything from jury summons to predictions for the Cat-Griz game and how his department is addressing the need for increased deputy patrol in rural areas.

Thank you to Missoula's Community Media Resource for podcast recording support!

Dave Strohmaier: [00:00:10] Well, welcome back everyone to the agenda with your Missoula County Commissioners. I'm Dave Strohmaier. I am joined today by my good friend and colleague, Commissioner Juanita Vero. Commissioner Slotnick is out, I believe, big game hunting this week so he will not be joining us. And we are delighted to have our very own Missoula County Sheriff Jeremiah Peterson with us today. This is Jeremiah's first time on the agenda. So welcome. Thanks for joining us.


Juanita Vero: [00:00:41] Great. Yeah, just start off, introduce yourself where you're from. Give us some professional background tidbits.


Jeremiah Petersen: [00:00:48] Well, thank you very much. I appreciate the opportunity to be here today. Dave and Juanita again. My name is Jeremiah Petersen. I'm the Missoula County sheriff. I grew up in Frenchtown, Montana, attended Frenchtown High School, class of 1994, Go Broncs. From there. I attended the University of Montana, and I did attend Montana State for a little short time as well.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:01:07] Both of them!


Jeremiah Petersen: [00:01:08]  I did. What did.


Juanita Vero: [00:01:09] What did you do in both?


Jeremiah Petersen: [00:01:09] So, well...


Dave Strohmaier: [00:01:10] Which was the better of the two? 


Jeremiah Petersen: [00:01:12] Well. I am a Griz fan. Let's just put it that way.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:01:14] Okay.


Jeremiah Petersen: [00:01:15] Go, Griz. No, my time at both universities was really good and I think I learned from both of them. I graduated from the University of Montana with a degree in sociology, and I was hired by the former sheriff, Doug Chase, in January of 2002 as a deputy sheriff. And I have worked for the sheriff's office since. I did about 15 years in the patrol division, where I held a variety of different roles. I was a field training officer, was a search and rescue coordinator, I was a corporal, I was a patrol sergeant, and I think I tried to diversify myself as much as I could to learn as much about the sheriff's office as I could. And I was selected to be the task force commander in the fall of 2016 at the Missoula Drug Task Force. And I held that role for three years. And then I was promoted to captain in 2019, and I was assigned to be the operations captain at the jail, and I held that role until I was elected as sheriff. So I've done a lot of different things here at the sheriff's office. And again, I don't know that that makes me the most qualified, but it certainly has given me a lot of different perspectives on what the sheriff's office does and how it operates to keep our public and our community safe.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:02:28] Maybe for those listeners out there who aren't that familiar with the sheriff's office or sheriff's offices across the state of Montana, maybe just say a few words about the kind of the breadth of what it is that you oversee and are responsible for as a law enforcement jurisdiction.


Jeremiah Petersen: [00:02:47] Sure. Yeah. The sheriff's office is quite vast. We have two main areas. We have deputies that are based out of the courthouse in downtown Missoula that are on the second floor, and then we have detention officers that are based out on Mullan Road, and they are in charge of those that have either been convicted of crimes or those that are awaiting their time in court. And that's at the Missoula County Detention Center. We have approximately 120 when fully staffed at the detention center and then downtown. We have 60 deputies, which includes myself and the undersheriff. Again, when fully staffed and obviously at the detention center, they're charged with ensuring that those individuals that are in the criminal justice system are being held safely and humanely, and that in itself is a small city. We hold just shy of 400 individuals there. And we also have a juvenile wing, which there's only three in the state of Montana here, Cascade County and Yellowstone County. And so we house juveniles for Missoula County, but we also house them for surrounding jurisdictions. And then downtown, two main areas. We have patrol deputies who respond to calls for service, and they drive the black and white cars. If you live outside the city limits and you call 911 for a variety of reasons, that's who you're going to get initially. And then we also have a detective division. They do follow up on most felony offenses and some misdemeanor offenses. And within that we also have some specialized areas.


Juanita Vero: [00:04:20] Can you go back to the difference between felony and misdemeanor?


Jeremiah Petersen: [00:04:23] To keep it really simple, the seriousness of the offense. Serious. Yeah. The seriousness of the offense. And that includes, you know, the monetary fines and or the length of incarceration that may be a potential sentence with those. If you're talking monetary amount, $1,500 is the bar for anything 1500 or more is a felony offense and under is a misdemeanor offense.


Juanita Vero: [00:04:45] Thank you. Sorry about that. Keep going. Yeah.


Jeremiah Petersen: [00:04:47] Within the sheriff's office we also have some specialized areas. You know, we have school resource officers that are assigned to the schools. We have a courthouse deputy. We have individuals that serve civil process papers. And that in itself is kind of a monumental task.


Juanita Vero: [00:05:03] Just like driving around the entire county trying to find people and serve them papers.


Jeremiah Petersen: [00:05:08] Yeah, and I'm not going to go. Over the list, but this is just the list of papers that they serve.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:05:13] This is a long list that Sheriff Petersen is holding up here.


Jeremiah Petersen: [00:05:17] Yeah, it really is incredible the the amount of paperwork that is generated through our our civil process.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:05:24] We've got parenting plans.


Juanita Vero: [00:05:26] Subpoenas, summons, small claims, complaints, dissolutions.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:05:30] How is it that the sheriff's office got saddled with this sort of responsibility?


Jeremiah Petersen: [00:05:34] A really good question, Dave. I have learned over the last several months that [00:05:40] a lot of different things fall onto the sheriff's office, and I think that's one of the things when we get people that are concerned about, say, speeders, for example, in neighborhoods, and they want extra patrol, which we want to give them, and we want to make the neighborhoods as safe as possible. But we have a finite number of deputies that work for us. And they do such a vast array of things that sometimes they have to prioritize what is the most important and what they're going to go to. And so prioritizing and making the best use of their time. So there's a lot of different things that fall within the duties of a sheriff's deputy. [00:06:16]


Juanita Vero: [00:06:16] Can we go back to when you were a sociology student? Did you know that you wanted to go into law enforcement?


Jeremiah Petersen: [00:06:23] You know, to be honest, and I know it's going to sound silly, but one of my favorite shows was Cops, and I actually started liking that when I was in high school. It was very appealing to me.


Juanita Vero: [00:06:34] What appealed to you?


Jeremiah Petersen: [00:06:35] The variety and the constant change. And I will tell you that I worked 15 years on patrol and I really, really enjoyed it. And I think that's what I enjoyed the most, is that variety. Every day is a blank slate. When you get in your car and you start working, you never know what calls you're going to get. And there are some days when it's a little bit slower, and there are other days when it's super chaotic and super stressful and super hectic, and you literally go from call to call to call and, you know, we work a 12 hour shift and sometimes it would be, you know, you'd be 11 hours in and you're like, I haven't taken a break or, you know, and it just goes so fast. And so that's what I really liked is that variety. And again, we do have some adrenaline spikes and dumps.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:07:15] Just like our position.


Jeremiah Petersen: [00:07:17] Right! Through throughout our day and night. And so I think that, you know, adds a little bit of excitement to it. When I first got hired, I had a senior officer told me that it was like NASCAR with guns. I wouldn't I wouldn't quite say that. But, you know, we do get we do get paid.


Juanita Vero: [00:07:30] I've done some ride alongs and it can it can seem like that.


Jeremiah Petersen: [00:07:34] Yeah. And we sometimes do drive fast. Although now that I've gotten older, sometimes we drive faster than we should. But the reality with that is we cover such a vast area, and we do it with such a few number of people that I think that's one of the reasons why people drive fast is because we do a lot on our own. And so you might have a deputy that's on a call for 15 or 20 minutes by themselves while somebody's driving 100 plus miles an hour to get there that entire time. And so that certainly can be a hurdle, you know, and I'll just compare a little bit to the city officers. Not only do they generally have more numbers working, but they're within a much smaller area geographically. And so, you know, their backup is quite often much, much closer. Now, I, I did when I was in college, I did think that it was something that I wanted to do, and I felt very fortunate when I applied because there were a lot of applicants. I had no experience. So I feel very fortunate that I got the chance.


Juanita Vero: [00:08:31] And you went right into patrol. You didn't spend any time at the detention center?


Jeremiah Petersen: [00:08:34] So when I when I first got hired, we had to do a week at the detention center. And so I spent a week there and which didn't hardly scratch the surface of what goes on there. You know, that place, like I said, it's a small city and it operates very, very efficiently with a number of people that, you know, that they're charged with taking care of.


Juanita Vero: [00:08:52] Did you have any preconceived notions going into it?


Jeremiah Petersen: [00:08:55] I think the biggest thing that I had a hard time adjusting to as a deputy going to calls is not believing everyone, because I did. I mean, I distinctly remember the very first call I was on and listening to one side tell their version of what happened. And I was like, that sounds reasonable. And then I went and listened to the other side and I was like, that sounds reasonable, too. And then it dawned on me. I'm like, somebody's not being truthful with me, because I think I was a little naive at the time. You know, I'd gone to college, but then when I was in college, I drove a dump truck and worked for a gravel company, and then I did that for a year before I got this job. And I was 25 years old. And, you know, and I think I was just a little naive that, you know, why would you lie to the cops? Right.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:09:34] So rumor has it that same phenomena occurs from time to time in Washington, DC, in the US. Inconceivable, I know, as crazy as that is. But yeah, I want to just go back again to the the beginning of your career. So myself, having a couple of kids who are either in college or thinking about college, is sociology a pathway for law enforcement?


Jeremiah Petersen: [00:09:59] Yeah. So at the time, the University of Montana didn't offer a criminal justice degree. So it was sociology with an emphasis in justice studies is what it was called. And so, yeah, there were several courses that. Were geared towards law enforcement. Was it specific? No, but I think, you know, the study of sociology, dealing with people, I think is huge and very crucial in law enforcement. Being able to communicate is vital in our line of work. And again, going back to especially in areas where you don't have a ton of backup quite often, you know, your ability to de-escalate a situation and to keep it calm until your backup can get there before you have to make decisions on what you're going to do. Because there are times when we do things that, you know, individuals don't like. And so we want to do that in a safe as manner as possible. But I think that it helped me. It gave me tools, number one, in how to write a proper sentence and how to type. That's one thing that I really didn't count on when I was watching cops is how much actual typing that law enforcement does.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:11:01] You don't see that in those shows.


Jeremiah Petersen: [00:11:03] It's crazy. I know right now I can say statistically, our deputies average between 7 and 9 calls a piece a day per shift. And so, you know, obviously that varies depending on how many are working. It could be more. It could be a little bit less. Not every one of those calls generates paperwork, but a majority of them do. And so the longer it takes you to type your reports, the longer you're off the street not helping your buddies. And so they're essentially covering for you. And so, you know, you'd be amazed at how fast some cops can type, especially when you look at them. You're like, I don't think that person could type fast and they can. And I've seen a few of them that still do the hunt and peck method, but they're very proficient at it. And so I think that those things, you know, as far as going to college certainly helped me, you know, was it the end all, be all, or is that something that you have to have. No you don't we don't require a degree, but I definitely think it helped me.


Juanita Vero: [00:11:57] How do you sharpen like that emotional intelligence. I mean, was that in school or your life experience growing up in Frenchtown?


Jeremiah Petersen: [00:12:04] Yeah. No, I mean, I think it's a combination. And I think that with our what we call field training program, we are throwing so much at newly hired deputies that it's one of those things where you really do have to be able to think under pressure and deal with stress and prioritize it. And I think that's just part of a maturation as you move and progress through the program. And I will tell you, I was a field training officer for eight years, and there are some individuals that have a hard time with that, and there are some people that struggle. I mean, I looking back now, I wouldn't want to have to go through that program again. I know it was super stressful for me just because and you've probably heard the term, you know, you're a jack of all trades, a master of none. And to a degree, deputies especially really are because, you know, after 5:00, if there's a dog problem, call the sheriff's office. If there's a livestock problem, call the sheriff's office. If there's a fish and game problem, call the sheriff's office. And so we deal with so many things and quite often, you know, you might deal with one little thing one day and then you might not deal with it again for another year or two years, but then you might two years later find yourself dealing with that. So you have to know just a little bit. So in a long way of answering your question, for me, it was just time and, you know, realizing that unfortunately, I was a little naive. And I guess you become more worldly. Yeah. Not everybody is going to tell you the truth.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:13:27] Yeah, that is for sure. Well, Jeremiah, you've said a few times or made reference a few times to the vastness of Missoula County and just the the different nature of law enforcement within a city like Missoula and Missoula County as a whole. One thing that I'm sure you've heard about many times, and certainly we have, is, is the desire for more law enforcement saturation around the county, particularly in rural areas where if you're seeing a problem that becomes all consuming for you, even though in the grand scheme of things, the the crime rate in Condon might not be off the charts, but it may seem that way to you based on what you're seeing right in front of you at any point in time. I know you've taken some steps to address concerns about coverage, and one of the most far flung places of Missoula County, the Seeley Swan. What have you done there and what is on the horizon?


Jeremiah Petersen: [00:14:26] Yeah, so that's a great question. Thank you. Seeley Swan Condon area. So we we split the county into what we consider geographic zones are what we call them. And I will just refer to the Potomac Seeley Condon area as zone five. For years we have had resident deputies. I can't tell you exactly when that started. I do know Sergeant Bob Parcell, who is currently a resident. I think he's been there for 33 years. But with that resident program, that's somebody that actually lives within the community and it's been super successful. It's been a really good thing. Unfortunately, over the last several years, the interest in people wanting to be resident deputies and to live in those, those little more remote areas. Has gone down. But I think the biggest hurdle that we've run into is the lack of affordable housing for deputies to live in those areas and especially, you know, the Seeley-swan, it's a beautiful area. There's lots of recreation opportunities. And I think we're seeing, you know, that people from outside of our area want to capitalize on those. And so that's just driven the prices up. With that being said, when I took over as sheriff, we had three slots allotted for resident deputies in that area. So one of those spots was open. And then about six months in, one of those individuals retired, did 25 plus years and so well-earned retirement.


Jeremiah Petersen: [00:15:45] And so currently, Bob Parcell is the only resident deputy that we have. So in an attempt to try and bolster that coverage, I worked closely with our patrol captain and the undersheriff, and we came up with a plan. We have a temporary duty assignment, is what we're calling it. It's for a year, and it's for a deputy to work for ten hour shifts. And during the school year, that's mainly a day shift. We want that school coverage. It's super important to us. And then with that, we have bolstered the patrol teams. Each team now is currently has seven individuals on it. Back when I was on patrol, there were five. And at some point that got bumped to six. Now we've bumped it to seven. And that thought with that seven is that every day and every night there will be an individual from Missoula that will drive to Seeley. And so we will have 24 hour coverage day and night with those patrol teams. And then during the daytime that will be augmented by Sergeant Parcell on one end of the week and then the other deputy, it's going to be Mike Sunderland. He was selected through a process and he will work the other end of the week. And so there will be more coverage in the seeley-swan than there ever has been.


Jeremiah Petersen: [00:16:57] You know, we don't like change, most of us just as humans. And I think a lot of people felt like they were not going to get the coverage that they had always gotten. And the reality is, is the coverage they had always gotten was ten hours a day and then subject to call out. Now, both Sergeant Parcell and Deputy Sunderland, they're subject to call out as well. [00:17:15] But we are going to have 24 hour coverage, which has never happened there. And I think that, you know, you pointed out, Dave, does the call volume necessarily justify that much? Probably not. It doesn't. But the remote nature of where those areas are does, in my opinion, justify. And especially if anyone traveled to Seeley this summer and had to sit in construction, you know, there's there's only a couple ways in there. And that definitely could hinder a response from from deputies running for Missoula. And so, you know, we were trying to be proactive in that sense. And we want obviously the citizens to to be comfortable, you know, with the law enforcement service that they get in that level. But, you know, in a county like Missoula, 2600mi², it is fairly vast. And, you know, we cover it with anywhere from 5 to 7 deputies at any given time. [00:18:06]


Dave Strohmaier: [00:18:06] I don't think folks realize that. I think there might be a perception that there there dozens of of deputies available at the starting blocks at any, any moment. But if we're talking 5 to 7 countywide, that's that's a whole different.


Juanita Vero: [00:18:24] A little bigger than the state of Delaware.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:18:26] Yeah. Yeah. That's a big...


Jeremiah Petersen: [00:18:27] Yeah, no, it really is. And I think you know that again goes back to our folks really need to be competent in handling situations by themselves. Because you know, our shift minimum is technically four. And we're trying to bump that to five. And you know, we always used to say that we're only two bad calls away from being tapped out and then relying on the city of Missoula to help us out or, you know, even the Highway Patrol. And so. Exactly. And, you know, the I've looked at the the rate, the crime rates and the trends and calls for service over the last several years, Jeremy and I have they are busier. But I think the biggest thing that we're seeing is the nature of the crimes are more violent. And and that's what's concerning, you know, persons crimes, you know, the ag assaults. We're fortunate here. We don't see a lot of murders, but we do see, you know, enough, in my opinion, and we certainly don't want to see more. And we've definitely seen that number go up over the years. But I think, you know, those violent assaults and, you know, and the robberies and the gun calls, those have gone up in, in nature. And and that's what's concerning, especially when you have, you know, individuals working by themselves. Yeah.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:19:34] In your time as sheriff, what have you found surprising in your new role, or at least since January?


Juanita Vero: [00:19:42] Yeah.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:19:43] Uh. Uh, I, I'm sure there are some days that it feels like you've been in this role a lot longer than since January. And and other days, maybe not so much.


Jeremiah Petersen: [00:19:52] Other days it feels like it's my second day. Yeah. No. For sure. Well, and that's a good question because I, I really thought when I took over that I had a pretty good base knowledge and probably to a degree I did. But I think that the thing I didn't realize is how much stuff does fall on the. Sheriff. And there's a lot of little things the juror summons issue that you know, in statute talking about, you know, the sheriff's serving juror summonses that people that don't want to respond to jury duty and.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:20:22] Tell, do tell. Yeah. How does this play out? So I usually respond.


Jeremiah Petersen: [00:20:27] Yeah, and a lot of people do. And the clerk of court really appreciates it and so do I. Now we were we were made aware at the end of August that when people don't respond to their juror summonses, the clerk of court will send a certified list to the sheriff's office. And then the statute actually says the sheriff will personally serve personally. Yeah, personally.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:20:46] As in, you?


Jeremiah Petersen: [00:20:47] Right. Thankfully, I can designate okay. But that is has been kind of a monumental task that we've been tackling in the last couple of months because we found that any given week, there's up to three jury pools that are out, and about a third of those individuals aren't responding. And so it can be up to 150 a week that we're.


Juanita Vero: [00:21:08] 150 people a week that you have to...


Jeremiah Petersen: [00:21:11] We're trying to find, yeah.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:21:12] Are you physically going to their homes? We are. Seriously?


Jeremiah Petersen: [00:21:14] Yes. And so that's been a huge burden. I will say on our staffing, just because, again, and...


Juanita Vero: [00:21:21] That's not something that can be contracted out with like some...


Jeremiah Petersen: [00:21:23] It could at some point.


Juanita Vero: [00:21:24]


Jeremiah Petersen: [00:21:24] Yeah. No it absolutely could. I think we could do civilians. But again it was kind of sprung on us. Now I will say that this statute has been in effect for a long time, but it's not something that we had been doing here at the sheriff's office, nor had many sheriff's offices throughout the state had been doing it. And so, you know, all 56 counties were kind of like, whoa, what do we have here? But it was it was brought to light in a decision out of Cascade County and district court judge, you know, made a ruling. And I mean, it does say in the actual MCA, which stands for the Montana Code Annotated, that the sheriff will do that. And so we've been doing our best to try and accommodate that. But it has been a challenge and I am hopeful. And I think the rest of the sheriffs throughout the state are very hopeful that there will be either some intervention from the Montana legislature or even from the Supreme Court so that we can share or spread this wealth.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:22:16] In the meantime, you're out there making contacts with folks. How is this played out? Do people greet you at the door and say, "oh yeah, you're right. I'll hustle right down there."


Jeremiah Petersen: [00:22:27] And I will say, in talking to our deputies that people have been fairly positive about it, you know, we are finding a fair number of individuals that don't respond because they've moved. You know, we're finding out a lot of them have moved out of state or just other towns inside Montana, and so. Well, I didn't need to respond. I don't live there anymore. But if they could have just called and told the clicker clerk that that would have certainly helped us a lot. So that's one thing. And then there are some individuals that have said, you know, I never did get the paperwork, which could be true. It's been fairly positive the people that we have been able to track down. But there are some that we can't. We just have to make a good effort to do so.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:23:04] It's a worst case scenario. Some someone says, you know what, I got it in the mail. I'm not doing it.


Jeremiah Petersen: [00:23:09] Yeah, no. And then we will convey that to the clerk of court, which will in turn convey it to the district court judge. And then it's up to the district court judge on how they want to proceed with that. It does carry a monetary fine. I don't think it carries any jail time, but that would.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:23:25] Be up to your civic duty and respond, folks.


Jeremiah Petersen: [00:23:29] Yeah, it really would help us out a lot, you know, and the folks at the clerk of court as well, because it's creating a lot of work for them as well.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:23:36] No kidding.


Juanita Vero: [00:23:37] Well, so tell us how what's the role of the coroner. Yeah.


Jeremiah Petersen: [00:23:41] So in Montana every county is a little bit different. A majority of the counties are set up where the sheriff is also the elected coroner. There are a few where it's a separate elected official. And so the coroner is essentially an office that investigates to try and determine the cause and manner of death of an individual that's not under the immediate care of a doctor or that is not on hospice. And so, for example, if somebody goes to the hospital and they're there less than 24 hours, and the result of why they're there is not an accident or suspicious, then a coroner would be requested to try and determine the cause and manner of death. [00:24:17] And so in Missoula County, I'm also the elected coroner, and I have deputy coroners that respond to calls. We have two per shift, so we have four patrol shifts. There are two coroners per shift. And then we also have an on call that's on call for seven days. And then that rotates continually. And I think our office, anywhere from 350 to 400 coroner calls a year is what we handle. And those are all filed through the state of Montana through vital statistics. [00:24:48]


Dave Strohmaier: [00:24:48] Is this something that there's training in?


Jeremiah Petersen: [00:24:51] Yeah. So we you're required to attend a 40 hour course that the the state of Montana. So there is a coroner's association really.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:25:01] Do they have conferences?


Jeremiah Petersen: [00:25:01] They do.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:25:02] They do. Okay. Okay.


Jeremiah Petersen: [00:25:04] Yeah they do. And so you are required to attend. It's called. A corner, and then they also have an advanced corner. And you get corners helping, you know, put that training on quite often. There's folks from the medical examiner's office I attended one in May, and Dr. Willie Kemp, who is the chief medical examiner for the state of Montana, he put on a portion of that training. Not to be morbid, but yes, we are certainly there to try and figure out what made this person pass away. And so with the vast array of knowledge and individuals throughout the state, you hear some pretty crazy stories. But the reality is, and just so people are aware, when we're there as a coroner, we're not there looking to see if something that happened was criminal or not. We're there just simply for the cause and manner of death. The best example I can give for that is if somebody passes away in the city of Missoula, the dispatcher is going to send a city officer or two. They will determine whether or not it was criminal. If it was criminal, they will lead a criminal investigation. Their detective division will. And then once that is complete, they will call for the coroner. The coroner will then come in and try and determine the cause and manner to kind of keep it separate. Now, if it's in the county, then we will have our county detectives and patrol working the criminal aspect, and then the coroner will do a separate investigation.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:26:20] So just so I'm understanding this, so I hypothetically. And typing emails at home and and suffer a catastrophic stroke or heart attack or some such thing and and slump over the keyboard and found that way. Someone then calls 911. Would a coroner be involved in that situation?


Jeremiah Petersen: [00:26:45] Absolutely. Yep. The only time they wouldn't be is say you were on hospice. Okay. And what hospice does is that you already have a doctor that's already willing to sign the death certificate for the cause and manner of death. So it's already pre determined, say somebody has cancer and they know it's terminal cancer. Then you would not call a coroner. All the paperwork's basically been taken care of. But yeah. And that that exact scenario I mean that happens quite frequently especially in a town the size of Missoula. It's not uncommon to get 1 or 2 a day. And the thing I was surprised when I started doing it, I started being a coroner in 2011, a number of elderly assisted living folks homes here. And so those individuals, you know, you go to all of those as well. You know, I actually had somebody because I was like, well, you know, they're elderly. You would expect them to die. And somebody said, well, yeah, they're also the easiest ones to kill because you expect them to die. And so that's that, you know, different mentality of, you know, just ensuring that that nobody did that, you know, that if it was, you think it was a natural death, that it was. And you know, so a coroner will obviously, you know, you take pictures of of the scenes, you interview individuals that are, you know, who found this, this person, you do pill counts. There's certain things that, you know, make sure that did somebody overdose. Was it intentional? Was it accidental. You know, was it there's a lot of different things that come into play. We do certainly rely on the medical examiner's to help us out. And we're very fortunate here in Missoula because we do have the crime lab here.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:28:10] What's the difference between a coroner and a medical examiner?


Jeremiah Petersen: [00:28:13] Well, so the medical examiner is is actually a doctor. So yeah. Big difference. Yeah. And that was always something that surprised me. You know, like I said, we go to the hospital for coroner calls. And I was always like, well, you know, I'm just this cop. And here I am talking to a doctor who has a lot more knowledge and training and, but, you know, doctors there and especially in hospitals, obviously, they're trying to keep people alive and they don't necessarily know all the ins and outs that say the medical examiner will. But, you know, we work, I think, fairly well with them. You know, most doctors at the hospital, they don't want to sign death certificates. Some will, but but most don't. Just kind of depends. But ultimately it is our office that signs a majority of those. And we do have a chief deputy coroner. Actually, we have two individuals filling that role just because the sheer numbers of cases they handle.


Juanita Vero: [00:29:05] So what are some of the topics that these coroner conferences I mean, what are the trending topics.


Jeremiah Petersen: [00:29:11] Yeah. Well, like, you know, the sudden unexplained infant death syndrome was what we talked about that was that was like a day long topic, you know, and again, pictures and different scenarios, you know, trying to eliminate that nothing criminal has occurred. And yeah, and it just varies. A lot of it is real life experience with actual real photos. We actually had the two deputies from Missoula did the homicide that occurred 3 or 4 years ago, when the individuals were cut up and put in the basement and they kind of went, you know, broke down that call and how it had went, went through it and terribly graphic, but very informative.


Juanita Vero: [00:29:47] That's super helpful. Thank you. Yeah. So now you're talking about difficulties with recruitment or actually now numbers are better. But this can be a tough time to be in law enforcement nationally. Or maybe not as much in this part of Montana, but how do you encourage people to get involved or be curious? Or what do you want folks to know?


Jeremiah Petersen: [00:30:05] Yeah, well, I mean, I, I will say that it's easy to be an armchair quarterback, if you will, if you're not involved and you're just watching it from the outside. So if you do have some concerns about how things are going down, my advice in anything is to step up, join the game, if you will. And I personally think this has been a great career. It has given me an opportunity to definitely give back to my community. I really think that we have some outstanding individuals in our Missoula area, law enforcement, not just at the sheriff's office, at the city police department, highway Patrol as well. And I truly believe that a majority of us get into this job for the right reason, and that's to make a difference. And I know it's a little corny or cheesy, but I think it's really true. And we want to make our communities a better place. And I think a majority of us do that. And so it's always frustrating when you see on the news and, and some, some police officer somewhere or deputy or whatever has done something that to shed a poor light on us. That's super frustrating. And I heard a saying that nobody hates a bad cop more than a good cop. And I think that's pretty true. But, you know, I would just encourage people that it really is a way to give back to your community. As you all know, working for the government, you're not going to get rich, but it is a steady job with a good retirement.


Jeremiah Petersen: [00:31:20] I've met some outstanding individuals, I've seen some really terrible things, but I've also seen some good things. And I think that we're very fortunate here in Missoula, because I do think that a majority of the community supports us, and we don't always hear that. Quite often we hear more of the negative, but, you know, when you get out. And that has been a positive, Dave, too, of going to these different places and talking to different people that I've heard a lot more positive than I have negative. And I appreciate that. And I think our folks do too. You know, that's one of the things, you know, we eat out a lot because, you know, you work shift work and, and a lot of people would come up and just say, hey, sorry to bother you, but I appreciate what you do. And that really goes a long ways towards your morale, just because quite often we're dealing with a lot of negativity. But yeah, no, I would strongly encourage people to apply. We definitely have seen a dramatic drop in numbers in applications and that's a little bit disappointing. We want the best of the best and that's what we need. And I mean I think that's what we have. But you know, moving forward we need those individuals to to continue to apply and to make a difference.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:32:20] Thanks football. Now. Well yeah. Let's pivot to the tough stuff now. So let's roll back the clock to 1995. I had no idea about this little bit of history, but what were you doing in 1995 Jeremiah.


Jeremiah Petersen: [00:32:35] So I had the opportunity to walk on at the University of Montana, and I played football for just one year under coach Don Reid. I was a scout team quarterback and what an outstanding year I picked to play the. The great Dave Dickenson was the quarterback that year and that was the year they won the national championship. I got to go to Huntington, West Virginia, and when they played Marshall and beat them, and what an outstanding experience it was. I will say at the time, there were probably plenty of days that I didn't think it was the most fun, but looking back on it, I'm really glad I did it. I learned a lot from it. I will say that my schoolwork suffered and I'm not proud of that, but it was a great experience. And, you know, I met some some guys that I'm still friends with. Always a Griz fan. Go, Griz.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:33:23] Did you go to MSU the next year?


Jeremiah Petersen: [00:33:25] I actually...


Dave Strohmaier: [00:33:26] Is that is that what I'm sensing here?


Juanita Vero: [00:33:27] Yeah.


Jeremiah Petersen: [00:33:29] I actually did, after


Dave Strohmaier: [00:33:30] Oh geez!


Jeremiah Petersen: [00:33:31] Yeah. And I went because when I was playing in here I lived at home and I should have never done that. It was nice because I saved the money.


Juanita Vero: [00:33:40] Like literally at home?


Jeremiah Petersen: [00:33:41] I lived at home, yeah. I lived with my parents and drove in. And so, you know, I'd leave early in the morning and then I'd do practice and everything and meetings and then get home late at night. And like I said, my schoolwork suffered. And so in an attempt to try and get that rectified, I did go to school in Bozeman for a couple of years. And because I had some high school friends that were there and it was a good experience. But again, I could just never, never become a bobcat fan. Okay, I did like the I did like the sunny days in the winter time, but yeah, so I, I transferred back and graduated from the University of Montana.


Juanita Vero: [00:34:13] So what's your prediction for Brawl of the Wild?


Jeremiah Petersen: [00:34:15] Well, you know, I mean I've got to say the Griz are going to win because I'm a Griz fan. I will say that Bobcats have an outstanding team and they really have had a good team the last couple of years, but I'm super hopeful. Griz are riding a four game winning streak and you know this is the right time to peak. And they seem to be getting a little better every week. And so hopefully they can continue that trend because I do have a lot of friends that are bobcat fans and I'm tired of getting ripped by them. So, you know, I could always go back to the overall number that, you know, the Grizz are still way ahead, but I think the cats have won the last four out of five. And I'm going to predict the Grizz are going to win. But it's going to be a tight one okay.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:34:51] There we have it folks, from your Missoula County sheriff.


Juanita Vero: [00:34:56] Anything we've missed.


Jeremiah Petersen: [00:34:57] Well I would like to put a plug out too for the Can the Cats this year.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:35:04] Yes.


Juanita Vero: [00:35:04] Oh yes yes, yes, we are part of that aren't we.


Jeremiah Petersen: [00:35:07] And and I know that.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:35:09] What are we going to do to can the cats.


Juanita Vero: [00:35:10] We are going to do better than Bozeman.


Speaker4: [00:35:12] Yes. Okay.


Juanita Vero: [00:35:13] Or better than the Gallatin County.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:35:15] Gallatin County. Yes.


Jeremiah Petersen: [00:35:17] And I know in the past they've always had a pretty strong showing. And so folks could really get out there from Missoula.


Juanita Vero: [00:35:24] Yes.


Jeremiah Petersen: [00:35:25] And and try and make sure that we win that as well.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:35:29] We have not peaked yet. So let folks let's can the cats. Yeah. Anything else that we missed.


Jeremiah Petersen: [00:35:35] No I don't think so I think yeah I appreciate this opportunity you know to be on here. And hopefully that gives a little glimpse of of the sheriff's office. And you know like you said what we do a vast number of things. Yeah. If you have an interest in law enforcement check us out. And, you know, do a ride along. I would I know that folks on patrol aren't going to want to hear this, but I really think that every taxpaying citizen should do a ride along with a law enforcement organization where they live.


Juanita Vero: [00:36:01] And I think I absolutely agree it was one of the most kind of eye opening informative.


Jeremiah Petersen: [00:36:06] Yeah, they informative is so you know, and again then that goes back to not being an armchair quarterback. You know, when you read about something that happened in the news, if you've ridden and you've been in one of those cars and you've listened and seen this stuff, you know, it's it's just a perspective that you can't get unless you're there.


Juanita Vero: [00:36:22] Oh, the closeout question.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:36:23] Yeah. So I. Guess we'll wrap things up today with you, Jeremiah, by asking a question that we ask all of our guests. And that is is there some bit of wisdom, some book you've read, some something you've seen in the movies that really anything for our guests out there that podcasts.


Juanita Vero: [00:36:44] Would piece of art.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:36:46] You know, provide some inspiration.


Jeremiah Petersen: [00:36:48] Yeah. So I don't know that it's really inspirational. I that's okay, I did recently we set.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:36:53] The bar low here, too.


Jeremiah Petersen: [00:36:55] Did recently. I'm not even sure of the title of the movie. It just came out something. The Flowers Moon?


Juanita Vero: [00:37:01] Oh!


Jeremiah Petersen: [00:37:02] About the Osage Nation.


Juanita Vero: [00:37:04] Killers of the Flower Moon. Yes.


Jeremiah Petersen: [00:37:06] And I went and saw that show just within the last week. And now I want to get the book because I want to read it. And I had no idea about all the atrocities that happened. But it was an outstanding movie. It had some local Montana Native American actors in it. It's sad on the one hand, because it's based on a true story, but I think it was also, I guess, a little inspirational because, you know, the FBI, they called it the Bureau of Investigations back then when J. Edgar Hoover. Right. That was spearheading it. And so, you know, they did some outstanding work and actually held some of those perpetrators accountable in that show.


Juanita Vero: [00:37:44] So it's on my list. I'm looking forward to it.


Jeremiah Petersen: [00:37:47] Yeah, it is a fairly lengthy show. It's about three hours in length. So make sure you get the popcorn. But that that yeah, that was an outstanding show. And I do want to read the book. I'll be honest, I'm not a huge reader. I do get the Western Horseman magazine and I read that, but.


Juanita Vero: [00:38:03] That's a classic.


Jeremiah Petersen: [00:38:04] Oh, but as far as my my reading, I'm not, uh, I don't do a ton of that.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:38:10] That's okay. Well, thanks so much, Jeremiah, for joining us. No, absolutely.


Jeremiah Petersen: [00:38:13] Thanks for the.


Juanita Vero: [00:38:14] Opportunity. Thank you, thank you.


Josh Slotnick: [00:38:16] Thanks for listening to the agenda. If you enjoy these conversations, it would mean a lot if you rate and review the show on whichever podcast app you use.


Juanita Vero: [00:38:24] And if you know a friend who would like to keep up with what's happening in local government, be sure to recommend this podcast to them.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:38:30] The agenda with the Missoula County Commissioners is made possible with support from Missoula Community Access Television, better known as mCAT, and our staff in the Missoula County Communications Division. If you have a.


Josh Slotnick: [00:38:42] Question or a topic you'd like us to discuss on a future episode, email it to


Juanita Vero: [00:38:49] To find out other ways to stay up to date with what's happening in Missoula County, go to


Dave Strohmaier: [00:38:57] Thanks for listening.