Tuesday’s shooting incident is a great example of the state of public safety in Billings.
On one hand, it represents the changing landscape that exists in Billings. It’s memorable that there were two incidents that involved a gun being fired, one along a busy, but normally quiet residential street.
Shortly after the gunfire on Rimrock Road, there was a report of shots being fired at Pictograph Cave State Park.
Later, we learned that these two events were connected and that there was a probably third incident allegedly perpetrated by the same suspect, Kelly Dee Megard.
It was a disturbing thing to see two shootings in the same day. It was also notable because two shootings just don’t happen around here that close together.
Usually. Until recently.
On the other hand, Tuesday’s shooting was a prime example of how communication or possibly territorial disputes didn’t serve the public well.
We, along with all other media, had to wait nearly 18 hours for the first hint that these two events were related. Of course, even an armchair reporter would suspect there’s probably a connection, especially in Billings where shootings aren’t everyday occurrences, thankfully. However, we couldn’t speculate on that. Reporters are not cops, nor do we want to be.
So we waited. Police gave out little information. Same with the Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Office.
We understand that investigating two shootings in two different parts of the county takes time. We understand that police don’t want to rush to judgment.
But what happened on Tuesday, into Wednesday, was a lot of fear and speculation. That’s the very real byproduct of no information. When there’s no information, people fear the unknown. They fill in the gaps.
We don’t know if the investigation was hampered because the city and the county are two different agencies. In the long run, it doesn’t matter. The result was the same.
Surely by sometime before evening newscasts and the paper’s deadlines, the police or county could have linked the two. They could have assured residents that they had likely been fired from the same gun.
Police and sheriff’s department may argue that investigations don’t follow media deadlines. That’s fine and as it should be.
But there is a very real consequence to an information vacuum.
Currently, the City of Billings has decided to ask voters to support a public safety referendum that would go, in large part, to the police department. The tax increase will be hefty.
Tuesday’s incidents may prove that public safety is both necessary and more resources are needed because we continue to grow.
However, if the city and the law enforcement community expect support, it is going to have to be a two-way street. Police and the sheriff, who may not directly benefit from a public safety levy, must do a better job at communicating.
Residents on Tuesday didn’t know what was going on, if there was still a shooter at large, and what had happened. That didn’t stop the rumor mill from kicking into overdrive.
If and when residents decide to saddle themselves with a heavy tax increase, they’re going to want something to show for the investment. The city and the police department are asking for an upgrade. It’s fair to expect that residents get something in return.