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Billings Police Chief Rich St. John

Billings Police Chief Rich St. John holds a press conference Feb. 20 to address thefts from the police evidence locker.

CASEY PAGE, Gazette Staff

The Billings Police Department has for the time being doubled its staff at the Evidence Building after it was made public last week that an evidence technician had confessed to stealing oxycodone pills and other prescription painkillers from the facility at 4845 Midland Road.

This is the second time in roughly three years a BPD evidence technician has stolen drugs. The first employee was fired in 2014, and later charged, after stealing drugs from the police evidence locker. 

Police Chief Rich St. John told the Billings City Council on Monday that a patrol sergeant had been reassigned to the facility as well as two officers and a paid intern.

In two weeks, the inventory has been reduced from 61,000 items to 57,000 items, St. John said. A new policy calls for two employees to be on duty at all times. “Frequent” spot checks are being done on facility cameras, and police are considering removing all cash from the building and returning 125 guns to owners or selling them online.

Two detectives are now being paid overtime at the facility, and St. John said he will pursue restructuring organization and staffing of the facility as part of upcoming 2018-19 budget considerations.

By the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, the department hopes to have a lieutenant running the evidence facility, St. John said.

During the budget process, the council will also decide whether to construct an addition to the current facility or to rent another building.

“You’d be impressed with the progress that’s been made, as I am,” St. John told the council. “We can solve a lot of problems by throwing money at them, and that’s what we’re doing here.”

St. John called the facility “very important to the criminal justice system. It’s very critical that evidence is pure and the chain of custody is unbroken. Once inventory is reduced," he said of the facility, "it becomes much more manageable.”

Friendship House parking lot

The council unanimously approved special review to allow the Friendship House of Christian Service, 3123 Eighth Avenue S., to construct a 10-space parking lot kitty-corner to its building.

Once constructed, the parking lot will be home to Friendship House’s fleet of vehicles.

The council continued, until March 12, a public hearing over whether to grant a variance that would allow Friendship House not to pave an alleyway as part of the project.

Peace Corps

At the meeting’s outset, the council honored Billings residents who have served in the Peace Corps. Mayor Bill Cole declared this week National Peace Corps Week in Billings.

Billings residents who have been Peace Corps volunteers include Councilman Brent Cromley, who worked in India, as well as others who performed service in Jamaica, Ukraine, Guatemala and Malaysia, among other places.

One Big Sky Center

City Administrator Bruce McCandless announced a pair of meetings designed to update the public on the progress of the One Big Sky Center project.

The first is set for 5:30-6:30 p.m. Thursday, with the second to follow from noon to 1 p.m. Friday. Both meetings will be held in the conference room at Big Sky Economic Development, 222 N. 32nd St.

Interim administrator

After the council unanimously approved a $160,000 salary and a contract for McCandless, the interim city administrator who plans to retire by Dec. 31, McCandless told the council he's "honored to be your city administrator."

"It's nothing I had planned, but I'm anxious to work with you," he told the council. "I think we can make some real progress over the next few months." 



City Government Reporter

City reporter for The Billings Gazette.