Public safety is everyone's business.
With leadership from Downtown Billings Alliance and the Billings Chamber of Commerce, local businesses are turning their safety concerns into action. The goal is to secure their property, workers and customers while making the entire city safer for residents and visitors.
During the past couple of years, Billings has seen an influx of people who apparently come to the city to drink on the streets. While they cause some problems, they are also likely to be victims of criminals. Along with alcohol, methamphetamine is prevalent and drives both violent and property crime.
Calls for police services actually dropped in 2018 (93,325), compared with 2017 (94,643) but far exceeded 2016 (84,820). Property crime reports also decreased last year as did violent crimes, except for the new category of strangulation of a partner or family member (121 reports).
Police Chief Rich St. John attributes those improvements to reactivating the department's Street Crimes Unit and traffic enforcement unit, along with the multi-jurisdictional Project Safe Neighborhoods initiative led by U.S. Attorney Kurt Alme. Finally getting to nearly its full authorized staff has allowed the BPD to be more proactive, preventing crime, the chief said.
At times, there may be fewer than 10 police officers patrolling our entire sprawling city.
St. John says police can't stop all crime by themselves. Chamber President John Brewer and DBA Executive Director Katy Easton agree with the chief. They are working with their members on crime prevention.
The DBA invited every business that serves or sells alcohol in downtown to a meeting the last week of August. Also participating were State Sen. Mary McNally and City Councilman Mike Yakawich whose districts include downtown. DBA members challenged each other to be cognizant of the law and the risks of over-serving patrons, Easton said. A need for more and regular server training was identified.
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We look forward to publicly congratulating the individual businesses that decide to invest in public safety, including those who forego some alcohol revenue because it will reduce problem drinking in the city. We challenge all alcohol merchants, not just downtown, to consider discontinuing single-serving package sales of beverages with high alcohol content. Those products have long been preferred by problem drinkers on our streets. Picking up a tall boy at the checkstand probably encourages drinking on the drive home more so than purchasing a six pack or a bottle of wine that more than likely will be stored in the trunk.
Design for security
The DBA and Chamber are collaborating to step up participation in Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design, a program that provides guidance to business for improving safety in their property and operations. This fall, each organization will send a staff member to train for several days in CPTED, so each will be qualified to work with Billings businesses and certify them as meeting program standards. Such certification might help lower insurance rates; it undoubtedly will improve peace of mind and neighborhood safety.
The safety certifications first will target businesses in areas identified has having higher incidence of theft, trespassing, vandalism or other crimes. The certification services will be offered free of charge, but businesses will be responsible for paying for upgrades they make. Easton said the DBA will investigate the possibility of grants to assist with safety improvement expenses.
The CPTED program will be a focus of the Chamber's annual meeting on Sept. 24 at MetraPark. Tickets are available from the Chamber.
On Oct. 2, community members are invited to a public safety meeting (see box above) at the Northern Hotel. Businesses that have already invested in the public safety initiative include First Interstate Bank, Northern Hotel, Pub Station, Best Western Clocktower Inn, Michael Schaer and Opportunity Bank.
These businesses, Billings Chamber and Downtown Billings Alliance are commended for launching citizen initiatives to make our community safer, thus improving the quality of life for all.
As Brewer said: "Police can only do so much. There's a lot we can be doing."