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The arrest of a suspect in a series of home invasions and rapes significantly calmed fears throughout our city.

Court documents filed Monday reveal extensive and thorough police detective work that amassed substantial evidence to charge a registered sex offender with attacks that occurred in May and July. The same man is a suspect in four other similar attacks that occurred earlier this year in Billings.

Billings Police Department is commended for its relentless investigation and pursuit of the man responsible for these horrible crimes against women. However, the suspect now in custody is entitled to due process of law and presumed innocent unless proven guilty in court.

While we praise the detective work, we continue to see shortcomings in BPD’s public communications.

The relief that a suspect had been arrested might have settled on the city Friday night after the man was arrested. But police did not reveal his arrest until Monday morning when Chief Rich St. John and County Attorney Scott Twito held a press conference. Why not tell the frightened community Friday that a suspect had been jailed?

Billings is becoming a bigger city. That puts bigger demands on our police department, including the necessity of timely, regular communication with the public. Rumors on the street and on social media ran rampant this summer. The attacks weren’t reported publicly for months until the fifth assault occurred and investigators recognized a pattern. Importantly, tips from concerned citizens helped lead to the suspect’s arrest.

In the long run, Billings needs to consider funding more police officers to keep our citizens and visitors safe.

In the short term, we call on St. John to step up public communications. The chief has previously held community events where he invited citizens to have coffee and share their comments or concerns. We suspect that a “coffee with the chief” held now would draw a crowd. The chief ought to consider hosting such an event.

The women’s safety event that drew hundreds of women to Montana State University Billings this summer ought to be repeated in some fashion.

And Billings folks need to keep their guard up. The personal safety precautions that many people took out of fear of the serial home invader are still necessary. Keep doors and windows locked. Watch out for your neighbors. Report suspicious persons to the BPD.

An outrageously lenient rape sentence

Billings made national news this week with the disturbing story of a man being sentenced to serve just one month in jail for raping a 14-year-old girl.

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Judge G. Todd Baugh sentenced Stacey Rambold to 15 years in prison with all but 31 days suspended. Rambold pleaded guilty to having sex with a 14-year-old girl when he was her teacher at Billings Senior High. The girl committed suicide before Rambold was convicted. Without her as a key witness, prosecutors struck a deal with Rambold: He could avoid prison if he completed a sex offender treatment program.

Rambold squandered that deal.

This week, Baugh gave Rambold a new sentence that effectively ignored the fact that this sex offender failed to do what he promised in the deferred prosecution agreement. The judge discounted the reasons why treatment professionals terminated Rambold.

Most troubling of all are Baugh’s statements about the young victim. Before sentencing, the judge said the girl was “as much in control of the situation” as Rambold. The judge stated that the victim “was older than her chronological age.”

Montana law says that a 49-year-old man having sexual intercourse with a 14-year-old girl is rape. Furthermore, this case is particularly egregious because the man was her public school teacher, an authority figure who knew how young, troubled and vulnerable she was.

The judge’s reasoning fails to deter or punish. Baugh should send Rambold to prison and keep him there until he completes a sex offender treatment program.

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Opinion Editor

Opinion editor for The Billings Gazette.