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Meth Blamed For Rise In Violent Crime In Yellowstone County, Law Enforcement Steps Up In Response

Jackie Yamanaka/YPR

Law enforcement officials say their collaborative effort to crack down on meth-fueled violent crime has resulted in a slight reduction in the number of murders, aggravated assaults and robberies in Yellowstone County. 

To get an idea of the severity of the problem, the figures from the Billings Police Department said there were 540 violent crimes in 2017. That’s a 75% percent increase from 2010, said U.S. Attorney for Montana Kurt Alme.

He says federal, state, and local law enforcement officials agree those rates stem from meth.

Alme said federal, state, and local law enforcement officials agree those rates were stem from methamphetamine.

“And it’s not only dealer on dealer violence,” he said. “It’s not only armed robberies of casinos and convenience stores to get money to purchase meth. But also there’s a certain number of meth users who become violent.”

To address that officials have combined forces under Project Safe Neighborhoods to arrest those caught trafficking meth, for armed robbery, and firearm possession by felons or other prohibited individuals.

Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito said since the initiative was launched in April, the violent crime rate has not increased.

“In fact, the numbers tell us it’s down. It’s down slightly,” he said. “It’s down 1% when you compare it to previous years.”

Through the Project Safe Neighborhoods program, officials have seized 160 pounds of meth or nearly 580,000 doses with a street value of over $7 million and 52 firearms, and 106 people were arrested.

Alme said meth is not only the cause of violent crime, but overwhelming the foster care system, overwhelming the jails and treatment centers.

“All of us up here know that enforcement alone is not going to turn the tide against meth. It’s also going to take more prevention, more drug court diversion and more treatment,” he said.

Alme said the Yellowstone Substance Abuse Connect was awarded a federal grant of nearly $359,000 to address prevention and treatment.

In addition, the PSN programs in Billings and Missoula were awarded a grant to take a deep dive into past and present crime data to better understand where and when violence is happening and try to identify who’s committing it. The hope is that data will help officials target their efforts.