BILLINGS — Fresh statistics from the Billings Police Department show reports of shootings and stabbings are on par with numbers the department has seen over the last couple years, reflecting a new normal of heightened crime post-pandemic.
Year-to-date numbers show 35 shootings called into the police department, compared to 38 on this same date in 2021, and 32 in 2020. In 2019, there were 24 shootings.
For stabbings, there have been 32 from the beginning of this year up to this date, compared to 27 in 2021, 39 in 2020, and 25 in 2019.
But what stands out from the recent wave of violent crime is the trend of teen involvement.
“The feeling right now is that we’re dealing with teen violence that we’re not used to seeing,” said Billings police Lt. Matt Lennick.
Lennick says he doesn’t have the exact numbers on how many crimes were committed specifically by people ages 18 or younger, but recent shootings with teen suspects stand out as unusual.
“So we are seeing teens with guns more common than we used to in years passed,” Lennick said. “They’re getting guns from a multitude of different areas.”
Lennick says teens are accessing firearms from parents, with or without permission, and buying, selling, and trading illegal firearms.
“We’ve seen all those scenarios play out,” Lennick said.
Behind the weapon, the crimes, and the violence is a list of difficulties teens are facing post-pandemic.
“We see teen suicide, self-harm, just violence, mental health struggles,” says Juanita Sanchez, director of Teen Services at the Boys and Girls Club of Yellowstone County.
Sanchez and her team at the Boys and Girls Club have created a safe environment for teens out of school.
“We try to provide different activities for their kids to keep them off the street and to introduce them to different opportunities,” Sanchez said.
Some of those programs include teen nights on Fridays that host activities for club members and non-members alike, along with job training and interview practice, mentoring and more.
A favorite new program of teens and staff is the Teen Bean coffee shop, which is run by teen club members in almost every capacity.
Sanchez says teen club members wrote the business plan, did all the ordering, staff the shop, and even manage it.
Profits from the coffee drinks go to running the shop, charitable causes, or can be re-invested in purchases for the teen area of the Club.
“If they want an Xbox in the teen center, they have to raise enough money to pay for it, but also enough money to make an equal donation to a charitable cause,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez and Lennick agree that front-end services like the Boys and Girls Club make a big difference in providing constructive environments for teens and keeping them off the streets—but Billings doesn’t have enough of them.
“I think a lot of what we have going on is a lack of services,” Lennick says.
“I think that although Billings is a very supportive community and there are some resources, I just don’t feel like there’s enough resources for the amount of struggles that teens have,” she said.