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Billings city council to look at more investigators for domestic violence

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Posted at 11:35 PM, Oct 23, 2023

BILLINGS - The city of Billings is aiming to end domestic violence.

The number of calls has been roughly 1,000 per year since 2020.

Councilwoman Jennifer Owen brought up an initiative to bring more information and allow the council to talk about establishing a family violence investigation unit and a family justice center.

She says domestic violence is quite prevalent and this will give victims a place to go for help.

"People who are going through significant ongoing cycles of violence can struggle with whether they want to pursue justice," Owen said. "They worry about not being believed. They worry about what will happen to their family. It's a complicated picture."

Owen says currently two officers investigate domestic violence cases and she wants more information from the city in order to expand that number.

"Is it patrol? Is it more investigators? Is it crime analysts or evidence technicians? It's really a question of what's the universe of need here. And how do we phase that in overtime?"

According to the Billings Police Department annual report, officers responded to 1,000 partner family member assaults in 2022.

That report shows 793 had no serious injuries, 116 involved strangulation and 91 included serious injuries.

"We really have to get on the cusp of this especially for children," Owen said. "Because when children are raised in an environment of violence, they're in a predisposition to either be victimized themselves or to engage in juvenile and adult crimes."

Owen says the city council would also look into a family justice center that would provide a safe place for victims to visit.

She envisions that would include law enforcement, victim witness help, social services, victim and survivor support, housing, civil defense, mental health and spiritual support.

"Everything that we would need to stand alongside of victims and survivors and also prosecute those crimes and bring the perpetrators to justice," Owen said would be there for victims

Officer Katie Nash is one of the department's two domestic violence investigators and talked about the need for a center this past summer.

She said 25 percent of domestic violence cases get reported and a center would help victims trust the officers.

"If they have one of the victim witness specialists from a prosecutor's office say, well, this is Katie Nash, she's an officer. She's not mean she's not scary. Just to have someone vouch for that person vouch for me."

The council voted unanimously on Monday night to further study the proposal.

"We're not voting to establish a unit," Owen said. "We're just starting the work of looking into what it would take to reorganize focus and prioritize."