More than 100 suspects have been charged since April when local, state and federal agents started a crackdown on meth trafficking and violent crime in the Billings area.
Early results indicate that the trend of rapidly increasing violent crime has been interrupted, though there is much more work to do. Reports of violent crime (e.g. murder, armed robbery and aggravated assault) increased 29 percent in Billings during the first three months of 2018, compared with the same period of 2017. The number of violent offenses for the past six months shows a 1 percent decrease over the same months of 2017. According to Billings Police Department data, violent crime reports rose 75 percent between 2010 and 2017.
U.S. Attorney for Montana Kurt Alme announced the early results for Project Safe Neighborhoods this week at a press conference where at least 11 law enforcement agencies were represented. That broad partnership and closer coordination is paying off in taking the worst offenders off the streets of Yellowstone County.
100 felony arrests
County Attorney Scott Twito said he and Alme communicate frequently to avoid duplication of efforts on cases that could be prosecuted either in state courts or federal courts. As a result of PSN, the Yellowstone County Attorney’s Office has charged 19 people with 40 felonies in the past six months. The U.S. Attorney’s Office is prosecuting 87 other suspects on charges of meth trafficking, armed robbery or illegal possession of firearms.
The word is out that Billings is a tougher place for drug dealers to do business. “If you commit armed robbery, push meth or commit a firearms offense, you will be arrested and you will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” Twito said.
160 pounds of meth
In addition to the arrests, cooperating agencies have seized 160 pounds of meth — enough for about 580,000 doses with an estimated street value of $7.2 million — along with marijuana, heroin and cocaine. Law officers also confiscated 52 guns, including six semi-automatic assault rifles.
Project Safe Neighborhoods is focused on stopping methamphetamine trafficking because that particular drug has been identified as the major driver of violent crime in Yellowstone County.
Alme pointed out that arrests and convictions alone won’t resolve the meth problem that fills our jail, overburdens the child foster care system and addiction treatment programs. That’s why PSN is partnering with Yellowstone Substance Abuse Connect.
Lead by Alme and Kristin Lundgren of United Way of Yellowstone County, Yellowstone Connect has convened meetings with leaders from dozens of governmental and private organizations. These concerned, capable people are united in commitment to reduce the abuse of drugs in our community. They recognize that means helping addicts and their families live drug-free outside of prison and jail, find safe, affordable housing, parent safely and get jobs that enable them to support themselves.
Yellowstone Connect will be primarily funded through a grant of $358,741 from the Office of National Drug Control Policy that was awarded last week to the Eastern Montana High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Drug Task Force. The BPD will administer the grant.
“Vigorous enforcement is only part of the solution,” Alme said. “We need the community’s help to reduce use through additional prevention, treatment and drug court diversion.”
Lundgren added: “In our community, who hasn’t been touched by addiction in some way — crime, family chaos, inability to find workers who can pass a drug test, kids in foster care, elder abuse and domestic violence?”
We applaud the law enforcement focus on making our community safer. Alme, Twito, and leaders of local, federal and state agencies are recognizing that a holistic plan is essential. The solution to the meth crisis is reducing supply and demand.