BILLINGS- Yellowstone County and federal attorneys held a press conference Wednesday morning to update the public on the results of the first year of the initiative-Project Safe Neighborhoods Yellowstone County.
This is a collaboration between law enforcement agencies to combat violent crimes.
“Thank you for coming to this announcement about the one-year results of Project Safe Neighborhoods Yellowstone County. It’s our initiative to reduce violent crime in our community,” U.S. Attorney Kurt Alme said.
According to FBI crime reports, violent crime had increased in Montana by over 35% from 2013-2017, leaving Montana with the second highest violent crime rate in the Northwest. Yellowstone County was identified to be one of the areas in Montana with the highest rate and growth of violent crimes.
“So this group of law enforcement leaders that you see up here today met to talk about why violent crime is increasing here, and the unanimous conclusion, is the primary cause was meth,” Alme said.
Meth-related violence includes dealer-on-dealer violence, robberies for drug money, and violent users. Since the implementation of Project Safe Neighborhood, the rate of growth of violent crimes has slowed.
“So beginning last April, law enforcement leaders committed to a two-prong approach: focused law enforcement, and meth prevention and treatment,” Alme said.
This requires collaboration between federal, state, tribal, and local law enforcement.
“I think we’re targeting the right crimes,” Alme said.
“Through our continued cooperation, law enforcement has prioritized individuals who continue to distribute methamphetamine, use violence to protect their distribution networks, or rob others to support their addiction,” Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito said.
“We focused on arresting meth traffickers and dealers, armed robbers, violent felons with firearms, and violent felons with outstanding warrants,” Alme said.
Over 850,000 doses of meth have been seized, and 212 firearms have been taken off the streets. One hundred seventy defendants have been charged with meth trafficking, firearm offenses, or robbery.
“In 2018, my office alone filed over 700 felony possession charges, and over 100 distribution or possession charges,” Twito said.
The next level for the task force is another unfortunate side effect of these crimes, neglect, and abuse of children.
“Meth affects our community beyond law enforcement. In 2018, over 500 children had to be removed from their parent or guardian due to substantiated neglect, as investigated by Child Protective Services. Cases involving drug use as a reason for the removal, over 60% of those cases involved meth use by the parent or guardian,” Twito said.
Project Safe Neighborhoods aims to prevent the demand for meth through the Yellowstone Substance Abuse Connect Coalition. The group works to increase prevention and treatment.
This coalition supports the Highway Patrol Criminal Interdiction Unit and provides funding to the Billings Police Department. The High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Taskforce also plays a key role.
“We have to address it in every way we can, in order to eventually protect our citizens and our visitors here, and also to make our communities safer and more healthy,” Attorney General Tim Fox said.
U.S. Attorney Kurt Alme announced they will be having a press conference in Missoula in a few weeks to discuss how they are getting a handle on the same problems in western Montana.
The coalition will also host a meeting on Friday, May 10th at 11 at Riverstone Health.
Call 406-247-2907 to RSVP for that event.