The victims of a holiday vandalism spree are so numerous that they would fill the Billings Community Center. So Billings police and the Yellowstone County attorneys office will hold a meeting there at 5:30 p.m. Thursday.
Thirty-four pages of charging documents filed in Youth Court summarize a monthlong police investigation that involved more than 200 crime victims. At least three detectives and a dozen patrolmen worked on the case. Most of the victims reported windows broken in parked vehicles, but at least one had a window shot out while driving. Other victims had windows in their homes shot out with BB guns. In two incidents, parked vehicles were burned up after fireworks were tossed inside.
Bats, BB guns, fireworks
According to police and documents filed Monday in District Court, evidence shows that five boys, ages 14-16, caused the wave of destruction that began in the early hours of Dec. 22 with around 50 vehicles damaged by bats while parked by West End residences. On subsequent nights, the suspects reportedly played a game with BB or pellet guns. The vandal holding a gun got to keep shooting until he missed a window.
The last vandalisms — the burning of two vehicles on Cook and Howard avenues — occurred on Jan. 1. However, some vandalisms weren’t reported until Jan. 8 and 9.
In between, dozens of reports flooded Billings police from vehicle owners over a large area of the city.
Twelve pages listing crimes police believe are related to the same vandalism spree total about $90,000 in estimated damage. But some cases don’t yet have damage estimates. In reading through the list of destruction, it is apparent that insurance won’t cover most of the loss for victims. Most of the damage estimates are under $500, less than the deductible on most insurance policies.
School officers help
The seven-page affidavit submitted by Deputy County Attorney Christopher Morris describes how Billings police, including school resource officers, worked together to stop the crime wave. Thanks to tips from community members — including information posted on Facebook — police identified five suspects. After officers talked with the suspects and their parents or grandparents, the vandalism spree halted.
Each of the five boys has been charged as a delinquent youth and, if found guilty, could be under the supervision of the Department of Corrections till age 25. The charges include arson, arson by accountability and criminal mischief common scheme — all felonies.
Billings police are commended for their hard work. This case demonstrates the value of citizens providing information to local law enforcement. And it reaffirms the wisdom of having savvy police resource officers in our local high schools and middle schools.
County Attorney Scott Twito and his staff are commended for extraordinary efforts to communicate with the victims. Twito has asked victims to attend the 5:30 p.m. Thursday meeting at 360 N. 23rd St., and to bring receipts, estimates or other documentation to show the amount of damage to their property. He pledged to send letters in coming weeks to victims who don’t attend Thursday.
Stopping the vehicle vandalism spree took good police teamwork and public cooperation. Getting restitution will depend on an accurate accounting of damage and more hard work from the county attorney.