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Mike Masterson: The Exit Interview

Boise's second-longest serving police chief sits down with Boise Weekly

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Through the course of our conversation, BW talked to Masterson about several other issues such as body cams (he thinks the department will have them within a couple of years), the racially-charged controversy in Ferguson, Mo. (NBC News called him for a comment but he avoided weighing in) and his proposed decentralization of police services by introducing more police precincts into Boise neighborhoods (he said it's still on the table). But when we asked Masterson about what he wants to accomplish in his final weeks, he brought up an intriguing initiative:

Masterson: The criminal justice system is antiquated in Idaho when it comes to crime and punishment--especially when we hand out misdemeanors to kids who have been consuming alcohol.

BW: Do you have a sense of how many open container citations you hand out?

Masterson: About 1,000 tickets a year. What really ticks me off is the penalty. If you steal someone's property, that is absolutely a crime. But not everything needs to be a crime. We're seeing young people lose internships and scholarships because they're convicted of a misdemeanor for drinking.

BW: Don't you think it will be a tough sell, particularly in certain sections of Idaho, to be more lenient on alcohol-related violations?

Masterson: Look, we can talk tough. But is that what you really want for your son or daughter? You know, things are a little different in some rural sections of Idaho where the local sheriff just calls the parents if the kids are caught drinking. But when those same kids come down to the Treasure Valley and they're attending Boise State and they're caught with an open container, they could become a criminal. Do you want that? I want to see that fixed.

BW: But where do you start with something like that? You have to work through a pretty big system and, ultimately, the Legislature.

Masterson: We're starting with other police chiefs and a panel of judges, prosecutors and defenders. You build a coalition. How about making a first-time possession of alcohol a fine, and the second or third a crime? I don't have any sympathy if you're caught twice. In a lot of other cities around the country, an open container violation is a civil forfeiture. You pay a fine and you move on with no criminal record. But here, it's a criminal offense. If I could make some progress on that, I'll be happy.

BW: Finally, in your decades of being a policeman, both here in Boise and in Madison, Wisc., did you ever have to fire your weapon?

Masterson: Other than training, I've never fired my gun.

BW: You've been a cop for 38 years. Can you really walk away so easily?

Masterson: It's time for someone else to bring the department to another level.