Boise Police Chief Michael Masterson oversees a department of more than 400 employees, 325 of them sworn police officers. He's responsible for an annual budget of more than $40 million. Masterson has, arguably, the most difficult job in town, yet he wouldn't go back to where he came from: Madison, Wis. Masterson worked on the Madison police force for more than a quarter century. His son is still on the Madison force, so Masterson keeps a close eye on news reports of massive protests and a citizen takeover of the Wisconsin State Capitol.
My guess is that you have no desire to be back in Madison right now.
No. My son has put in over 100 hours of overtime just in the past 10 days.
What sealed the deal for you in late 2004 when you decided to take the job in Boise?
Boise is a blue circle inside a red state, much like Madison. There's a strong university system here, with a strong percentage of educated people. I know it was a very competitive process, but it came down to my meeting with Mayor [Dave] Bieter. I arrived here on Jan. 1, 2005, and I've never regretted the decision.
What are your work days like?
I'm here most days by 6:30 in the morning. I usually talk with officers who are wrapping up the overnight shift. I sit in on the early morning briefing, and I occasionally drop in on meetings with detectives, neighborhood officers and school resource officers.
Last summer, you instituted a ban of texting when driving any Boise police vehicle. Where did that come from?
It was a reflection of my own bad habits. We are so tied to these devices. If we find ourselves deviating from traffic because of that, what type of example are we setting to the community? But as far as a community or statewide ordinance, it's really frustrating to see what's going on, or not going on, over at the Legislature.
Is it best that we have a state law banning texting while driving instead of municipal ordinances?
I think it's best that we're uniform across the state. You need to know that it's an expectation of roadway safety regardless of what community you're in.
Are you keeping an eye on the proposed legislation that would allow concealed weapons on campuses of Idaho's public universities?
We have an interest in that because we police Boise State. I think it's a bad idea. I can only recall twice in the seven years that I've been here of instances where people have drawn a gun to prevent a crime. In one instance, a do-gooder pulled a gun on a suspect, and a second citizen, not knowing what the situation was, pulled a gun on the do-gooder.
Are there places in Boise that you deem unsafe?
Not at all. I think a person's perception of crime and safety is based on their autobiography and whether they've been a victim of a crime. Walking around Boise, I've never sensed that my security was threatened in any way. On occasion, people will tell me that things get a little bad at Boise State football games. We used to kick out 100 people a game at the University of Wisconsin. It's unusual if we kick out 10 people in a season here.
In December 2004, 16-year-old Matthew Jones was shot and killed by a Boise police officer when he charged police with a rifle and bayonet. How is the department any different following that event?
That was a pretty emotional time for us. If we had shot and killed a bank robber, it would be entirely different. I don't profess to always make a difference, but I think I can influence people to think twice in handling those situations. I think we learn a lot from all of our critical incidents.
Where are you on putting together a new departmental budget?
We're working on it now. We're looking at everything.
It's a two-year plan. When is it due?
It would go into effect Oct. 1. It needs to be considered over the next three to four months.
I'm presuming that it's a process that you don't enjoy.
The first time I had to put a budget together here, I eliminated the horse patrols. I still get letters about that today. I love horses, but the stables were going to cost taxpayers $750,000. Bicycles are much more effective.
Do you ride with the bicycle patrols?
I go out twice a year. I've done 40-mile shifts with them. They cover a lot of ground. It's very effective.
When are you going out next?
Maybe May or June. I don't do winters.