The value of public safety was the recurring theme at the Billings Chamber of Commerce annual meeting Tuesday at MetraPark.With an audience of nearly 500 business people, speakers returned again and again to the Chamber board's No. 1 identified priority: public safety.
Why? Because businesses that are safe and are perceived as safe attract good employees and customers. A community must be safe to thrive. Vandalism and theft cost businesses.
The chamber hosted Billings firefighters, police officers and Yellowstone County sheriff's officers as honored guests at the luncheon. A video showed workers at local first responder agencies describing the challenges of trying to do more for the community with fewer resources.
"Improving public safety is the No. 1 issue for the Billings Chamber," because "of the real or perceived noting that Billings is an unsafe place," Chamber CEO John Brewer said. In a recent survey, 66% of Chamber members responding said their businesses had been affected by public safety issues either moderately or a great deal.
"We're going to have to pass a public safety levy," Brewer said. But there is more that citizens, including business people, must do to protect our city and ourselves.
"Public safety directly impacts our members and our economic situation," said Patrice Elliot, who just completed a term as Chamber board president.
A Chamber committee has met with local public safety agencies as well as with organizations that serve homeless, mentally ill and addicted individuals. Businesses must look to improve their environment. They must recognize the impact of alcohol sales, especially the single-serving containers of high-alcohol-content beverages popular with people who drink till they are drunk on city streets.
"We're going to solve it as a community," Brewer said.
New Chamber Board Chairman Brian Brown urged members: "Take ownership of your space and hold neighbors accountable."
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Some fairly simple steps can improve safety. Making sure that lights and security cameras are working, keeping a clear view between the street and building entrances and windows. Clearly marking and guiding people to the business' main entrance. Cleaning up trash and graffiti promptly so it's obvious that someone cares for the property.
A certified Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design expert showed photo examples of how safety can be bolstered with changes in the physical setting. Mark Johnson, a retired Bozeman police officer, also spoke to a group of Billings business people about CPTED about a year ago.
The Chamber now is taking action with this crime prevention strategy. Advocacy director Dan Brooks is scheduled to train before year's end as a CPTED evaluater and in January, the Chamber plans to start offering safety evaluations at no charge to members who request evaluations.
The Downtown Billings Alliance has a similar plan with training a staff member and offering the evaluations by January, Executive Director Katy Easton recently told The Gazette.
Billings already has one certified CPTED evaluator, Tom Keightley, BPD crime prevention officer. To request a CPTED evaluation from BPD, call the Crime Prevention Center at 247-8590.
The most important point about these business-driven crime prevention efforts is recognizing that we citizens can do a lot to protect ourselves.
"We need help," Police Chief Rich St. John said after the Chamber meeting. "We can't do it all ourselves."
Billings is our home. It's where we live, work and play. It's where our children go to school and our elders retire. Public safety is everyone's business.