Citizens Give Police High Marks; But Worried About Crime Levels
While Billings citizens give local law enforcement high marks in performance and generally feel safe in Billings, they do have some anxiety about the downtown area according to a most recent survey.
Each year the City of Billings Police issue a report regarding the past year’s activity, including a survey of citizens’ safety concerns, the kinds of issues and crimes with which police have had to deal, and how the department is structured and operates. The report is available on the City of Billings website in the document center, but here are some highlights.
Asked about the quality of life in Billings the survey revealed that eight in ten believe it is an excellent or good place to live, with three-fourths agreeing that it is a good place to raise children. A majority said they felt safe in their neighborhood during the day and at night (92 percent and 71 percent respectively). Only 83 percent said they felt safe in major recreational areas and downtown areas during the day.
About 6 in 10 respondents rated the overall feeling of safety in Billings as excellent or good – a score lower than the national average. Only 3 in 10 residents said they feel very or somewhat safe in Billings’ downtown areas and in major recreational areas at night, also a rating below the national average.
Issues of greatest concern are drug abuse, burglaries/ thefts, homeless or transient related problems, driving under the influence, domestic violence, and child abuse. More than 75 percent of respondents rated each of these factors as a major or moderate problem.
Respondents gave high marks to the job performance of the police department, despite the problems they see.
If it seems like the incidence of murder – deliberate homicide – has increased a lot in Billings – it has. A look at a ten year chart of Homicide Offenses in Billings, which include Negligent Homicide and Justifiable Homicide, is one of dramatically rising bars across its face. In 2010 there was one – just one – case of deliberate homicide and one of negligent homicide. It was much the same in 2013, when deliberate homicide increased to 4 and no negligent homicides. In 2015 there were nine deliberate homicides and 1 negligent. There were no deliberate homicides in 2016 and only one negligent. 2017 saw the first incident of justifiable homicides when there were three. In 2018 there were 5 deliberate homicides, and then three in 2019 and then the number skyrocketed to 16 in 2020, at which point there was 4 negligent homicides and two justifiable homicide.
By the end of 2020, the Police Department reported that 15 of 22 homicides had been cleared by arrest, warrant or the suspect was deceased. The other 7 cases were open or under prosecutorial review for charges.
Violent crime rates too show a dramatic increase over the past ten years, climbing from 52 robbery offenses in 2010 to 138 in 2020. Most violent crimes are assaults, followed by criminal endangerment, partner- family member assault, and assault on a minor. The number of annual aggravated assaults has increased from 206 in 2010 to 781, which includes a big jump from 2019 which had 513. Non-aggravated assaults increased from 1102 in 2010 to 1658 in 2020.
It was commonly claimed that with the COVID-19 lockdowns that the strain placed on families resulted in an increase in domestic violence, the data at the end of 2020 seems to bear out the claim. The number of Partner or Family Member Assaults jumped from 724 in 2019 to 971 in 2020. (the number was 754 in 2017.) Strangulation was a factor in 155 instances. Incidents of stalking increases from 8 in 2017 to 25 in 2020. Sexual assault increased from 175 cases in 2019 to 247 in 2020.
There were 60 kidnappings in Billings in 2020, edging back up to the record high in 2011 of 79.
Drug abuse and drug trafficking are at the top of the list of the crimes that are of greatest concern to Billings. Various aspects of law enforcement have a collaborative program in dealing with drug trafficking, called the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Program (HIDTA), a component of the President’s National Drug Control Strategy, which provides federal resources to local law enforcement. The Eastern Montana HIDTA Drug Task Force was formed in 1996 as part of Rocky Mountain Region which covers Montana, Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.
Methamphetamine was the most common drug seized by law enforcement in 2020 at 56.21 pounds, followed by 42.86 pounds o marijuana. 3,476 Pharmaceuticals were seized, in addition to heroin, cocaine, fentanyl, hallucinogens, and $498,631 in assets. 198 firearms were seized, 26 drug loads were intercepted and one meth lab uncovered. During the year Billings law enforcement made 57 felony arrests 35 federal indictments, and 2 misdemeanor charges.
There are an average of 16 officers and commanders on each of the three shifts the police department operates every day. Commanders determine which part of Billings each officer – never less than nine officers — will patrol that day.
There are separate divisions within the department including Domestic Violence Investigator, Investigations, Animal Control. There are also specialized 15 other units within the department, such as the Bicycle Patrol, the K9 unit, the Bomb Squad, SWAT, Firearm Instructors, Crisis Intervention Training, etc.
The goals of the Billings Police Department include to reduce the incident of violent crime by aggressively targeting violent criminal and drug activity, to continue to disrupt and dismantle drug trafficking organization and by adding additional officers to the Street Crimes Unit.
The department intends to strengthen traffic enforcement y by fully sting the Selective Traffic Enforcement Program (STEP) and augmenting it with K9 (dogs) officers. They have installed electronic equipment that will reduce time involved in issuing and processing citations, and they have added speed trailers for neighborhood monitoring.
Other goals include improving response time, making reporting crime easier, and to more extensively implement crime prevention through Environmental Design which involves improving the appearance of neighborhoods, improving lighting and removing visual obstructions, etc. And, to continue relationships and cooperation with other local associations, businesses, schools and medical facilities.