BILLINGS – Federal, state, and local law enforcement officials announced Monday a renewed joint initiative to combat violent crime in Yellowstone County.
The Project Safe Neighborhoods Initiative was recently reintroduced by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions as a tool for law enforcement agencies around the country.
Violent crime has increased over 30 percent since 2010 in Yellowstone County, according to the FBI. In Billings, violent crime has increased 75 percent in that same time period.
The initiative will put an emphasis on the prosecution of three types of violent crime: armed robbery, felons in possession of a firearm, and charges related to the trafficking and distribution of methamphetamine.
"The message of Project Safe Neighborhoods is clear," Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito said Monday. "If you commit armed robbery, push methamphetamine or commit a firearms offense, you will be arrested and you will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law."
Officials highlighted the arrest of 17 people under the new initiative, since they implemented it about a month ago. Ten of the arrests included charges related to methamphetamine.
"The meth that we are seeing is direct-sourced from Mexico," said Billings Police Chief Rich St. John. "It’s virtually 100 percent pure, it’s readily available, relatively inexpensive and the demand is significant. Combine that with guns and dangerous offenders, and people get hurt. And the numbers show that."
St. John said methamphetamine crimes and seizures in the first quarter of 2018 have already surpassed the number for all of 2017.
In addition to arrest and prosecution, another piece of the initiative is substance abuse prevention and treatment, officials said.