Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Billings police chief addresses increase in certain crimes

Billings Police Chief Rich St. John
Billings Police Department
Billings Police Chief Rich St. John

The recent police report for Billings came out at the end of March. It shows decreases in assaults and property crimes. However, criminal homicide doubled compared to 2021.

Yellowstone Public Radio’s Orlinda Worthington sat down with police chief Rich St.John to add some context to the report.

Orlinda Worthington:  Chief St. John, thank you for visiting with me today. You commented during your recent press conference that despite increases in certain types of violent crime, it is not a trend.  Explain that to us.

Rich St. John: We’re certainly mindful of the problems that we have in the community surrounding violent crime. I also pointed out that we needed to look at 10 years of data and to really look at the trends from that, which were, that we had six criminal homicides a year for an average of 10 years, and that included 2020 and 2022, which were significant spikes. Again, when we look at the thing holistically about what's going on in the community that's where we have historically been.

The violent crime itself, apart from the criminal homicides, happy that they flattened out and were turned down. What that showed is that the strategies that we implemented, supported by the resources we got from the safety levy, uh, worked. Uh, the one thing that we struggle with, and it's very difficult for the police department, uh, the significant spikes in numbers, and the increases were domestic related. That was about 52 percent of all of our assaults that took place. That's a significant number. That’s unacceptable, however very difficult for the police department to prevent that. I mean, this is basically a, uh, you know, a crime takes place in the home behind closed doors. And so this is some of the efforts that we see on the back end trying to get, uh, the community engaged with education, with prevention, make sure we’re holding offenders accountable.

When you look at it very acutely, you know, people are shocked. I mean it's the front page. We have the homicides, the shootings. And I’m not gonna say that those aren’t a problem but when you step back and look at it holistically you and you apply the trends it’s not as bad as it looks.

Orlinda Worthington:  You mentioned some of the strategies that you had implemented thanks to some recent funding.  What are some of those strategies?

Rich St. John: The whole thing that we really needed to do was free up sworn officers time to engage in proactive policing. Supporting that was recommendation by a third party organization called the Center for public safety management, CPSM, and they recommended obviously some additional staff, but surprisingly enough, 50% of the recommendations were civilian positions and so we have done that and it's made a significant impact freeing up our officers for, uh, for those things .

Orlinda Worthington:  Something that seems fairly new to the area are what we might call armed standoffs.  Is that unusual and are officers getting special training to deal with that?

Rich St. John:  Yeah, unfortunately, we're seeing a lot more of what they call barricade situations. And what happens is the suspect in this case retreats into a residence or in some cases a car refuses to surrender and then requires some additional work to resolve that situation.

But essentially what you have are a group of officers that are highly trained. They bring weapons and tools to a scene that an average officer does not have. The thing that is good about that is that we are not a big enough city with problems so frequent that we need a full-time swat. And the bad side of that is that these skills are degradable. Obviously carving out training time, equipment's expensive to be proficient at what you're doing, you, you know, you need to spend time at it. So that balance is very significant. The sheriff’s office is exactly the same way. Everybody there has a day job and then if something happens they come together.

Orlinda Worthington:  Billings Police Chief Rich St. John, thank you for your time, and thank you to everyone in your department for everything they do to protect and serve the community.

Rich St. John: Thank you for having me.

Orlinda Worthington hosts “Morning Edition” weekdays on YPR. She brings 20 years of experience as Montana television news anchor, producer, and reporter.