NewsLocal News


Billings citizens meet with police chief and sheriff about body cameras, use of force

Police sheriff  forum.jpg
Posted at 10:54 PM, May 12, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-13 16:53:01-04

From the use of force to no-knock warrants to body cameras, a coalition of Billings organizations wanted to find out whether there is discrimination in local law enforcement.

The group brought concerns about possible discrimination at the Billings Public Library Royal Johnson Community Room on Thursday night.

About a dozen concerned citizens met with Billings Police Chief Rich St. John and Yellowstone County Sheriff Mike Linder.

Around 15 nonprofits make up the Alliance of Defenders of Acceptance and Belonging, which came together shortly after the George Floyd demonstration in Billings in June of 2020.

"We wanted to make sure that this is an issue that people are concerned about," said Tom Towe, the group's organizer. "We don't want it to die. We want to make sure that we follow up on it and do what we can."

Towe said the goal is to identify and reduce discrimination.

"They have policy procedure protections in state law, and so we're not going to violate that," said St. John. "So it's not an issue. Some people perceive that it is and of course we're always willing to discuss those."

"We're not seeing the big issue of discrimination," Linder said. "Once in a while, we'll get a complaint. In most cases, they're either unfounded or it's somebody that we've dealt with numerous times."

The sheriff and the chief say racial profiling and discrimination are illegal and not taught in their departments.

Body cameras are concerned, and both say that the use of force needs to be justified for the situation.

The issue of body cameras arose in February, when Billings Police Officer Brett Hilde shot and killed a 40-year-old Billings man who pointed a pellet gun at him from a distance in the street. Hilde's body camera was not on, a move that St. John later defended because the situation unfolded so quickly.

Chokeholds are not part of the training for officers and deputies, according to St. John and Linder.

"A lot of that stuff is brought to the forefront because of what's going on in other parts of the country," Linder said."We're not seeing those kinds of issues or those problems. that I'm aware of in our community."

"This is particularly geared I think towards a lot of the issues that have been discussed nationally as of late," St. John said of the forum. "Use of force, some of our body camera policies, things of that sort. Again, an opportunity to share information."

"If anybody comes in just really criticizing the police and unfund the police and do all these other things, that doesn't make any sense at all," Towe said. "And I believe in the good sense of American people. I believe in the good sense of Montana's citizens."