Police annual report

The Billings Police Department's Neil Lawrence, left, and Chief Rich St. John deliver the department's annual report on Monday, April 1, 2019.

Criminal activity in Billings had its ups and downs last year. 

Most notably, violent crimes in the city increased from 540 reported incidents in 2017 to 663 in 2018, a jump of 20%, according to the Billings Police Dept. annual report. 

The report also showed a marked decrease in reported property crimes, which fell from 6,762 incidents in 2017 to 5,692 in 2018, a drop of 17%. 

"This is due in large part to our street crimes unit," said police Chief Rich St. John. "When we're able to be proactive it makes a significant difference." 

The street crimes unit was created last year by taking five officers in the department and dedicating them specifically to patrol and to property crime prevention. 

Part of the increase in the city's violent crime rate was due to how elements of partner and family assault crimes are now reported. State law now requires separate charges be brought for cases of strangulation in partner and family assault crimes, giving it its own category in the violent crimes report. 

Also in the report were breakdowns of charges filed along demographic lines. The data set is broken in two, showing the specific number of criminal charges by race and then the number of people per demographic charged with those crimes. The two numbers show that some individuals are charged multiple times.

For example, 2,511 white residents were charged with 5,914 crimes. Similarly, 1,094 American Indian residents were charged with 4,286 crimes.

The numbers are significant. In 2018, 86% of Billings' residents were white, while American Indians, by contrast, made up 4% of the city's population. 

St. John spoke specifically to those numbers, emphasizing that his department takes pains not to racially profile the people they police. 

"If we profile, we profile behavior," he said.  

The report also highlighted the city's more accident-prone intersections. Grand Avenue and Shiloh Road saw 30 accidents in 2018, the most last year for a city intersection. Right behind was King Avenue West and Shiloh with 29 accidents. In the Heights, Lake Elmo Drive and Main Street saw 23 accidents. 

The report also showed that Billings' most traffic accidents in 2018 happened at 4 p.m. on Tuesdays, followed by 5 p.m. on Fridays. 

Overall, traffic accidents in the city increased from 2017, when the police responded to 3,914 wrecks. In 2018, they responded to 3,969 accidents. 

Finally, the city saw a number of high profile visitors last year, including two visits from President Donald Trump and a visit from Vice President Mike Pence. The city spent $80,000 in public safety costs for the visits, a relatively low amount considering all the activity that surrounded the multiple visits, St. John said. 

"That's money well spent," he said. "And yeah, I'd love to have it back."

The police department filed for reimbursements from the Trump campaign team. When asked if he'd gotten a response, St. John simply responded, "Crickets."

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Business Reporter

Business Reporter for the Billings Gazette.