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Billings City Council holds crime prevention round table

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Posted at 11:56 PM, Jan 16, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-17 12:01:58-05

BILLINGS - In December the Billings City Council looked at crime, punishment and the jail.

The focus at a round table on Tuesday night was more on mental health, family situations, and cultural considerations and how they affect crime.

Law enforcement responded to several crimes toward the end of 2023 and into this year and some of those involved youth.

Adverse childhood experiences such as abuse, broken families, and mental health issues can lead to crime, according to RiverStone Health.

Some at the meeting, held at the Billings Public Library Royal Johnson Community Room, had a chance to talk about the youth.

“All of our kids at any moment could make a bad choice,” said Karen Sylvester, Mental Health Center certified prevention specialist. “They could be exposed to something. Especially our middle school and high school kids where they're at that point in their life where they're trying to fit in and figure out how they fit in.”

“What does our future look like? “ asked Zack Terakedis, Substance Abuse Connect executive director and a School District 2 trustee. “It's going to be in our young people, learning to do things better than maybe what we're doing right now.”

 Those shootings have been part of the motivation for the city looking at crime prevention.

“We had those terrible spate of homicides within a single month,” said Billings Mayor Bill Cole. “And that caused a lot of attention on the problem of crime.”

Cole said since some of those crimes involved youth, that became the focus of the round table.

“How do we get to the root of the problem of preventing crime in particular with our children?” Cole asked. “How do we prevent those traumatic experiences that set kids up for being involved with criminal activity?”

 And while not all the answers are apparent, some have a good handle on what challenges the youth.

 “We know the opposite of addiction is not sobriety,” said Terri Todd, Gratitude in Attitude co-founder. “The opposite of addiction is connection. And so we have to provide opportunities to connect people in our community so that they feel part of.”

“Connecting individuals to culture is really important,” said Makayla Weasleboy, project director for the Native American Development Corporation’s Native American Empowerment Project. “And this is not just for Native Americans. We do work with non-natives as well.”

The mayor says the city does not have a department that focuses on mental health, substance abuse or domestic violence.

Solutions may come about when the council and the city workers meet later this year.

“We would like to be more proactive and engaged with our community about how we can be helpful in addressing the root causes of crime in our community,” Cole said.