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Billings city leaders hold public meeting aimed at improving safety

Billings city leaders holding public meeting aimed at improving safety
Posted at 5:32 PM, Dec 04, 2023

BILLINGS — City, county and federal officials met at the Billings Public Library Royal Johnson Community Room, to discuss what public safety measures can be taken to reduce violent crime in the community as the new year approaches.

On the heels of Saturday's drive-by shooting, the latest in a string of recent violence, concerns about public safety are continuing to grow, for both Billings residents and leaders.

Billings city leaders holding public meeting aimed at improving safety

“If our community is going to truly thrive, then people have to feel safe,” said Billings city administrator Chris Kukulski on Monday. “We are working on specific strategies, objectives and action plans to not just point fingers but be successful.”

Kukulski says progress has been made regarding the city’s criminal justice system with two voter-approved public safety levies in 2020 and 2021, but the amount of crime young kids are both involved in and falling victim to is unacceptable.

“What is alarming is the ages of our kids who are getting involved in criminal activity, so I think that warrants this renewed conversation,” Kukulski said.

The meeting was an open discussion on how to reduce family violence and crime, increase criminal intervention and improve downtown and traffic safety.
One action step to be discussed is a new unit in the Billings Police Department.

“Wanting to specifically get at least a two-person kind of gang unit working. So, that’s not taking resources from our street crime unit but in addition to our street crime unit,” Kukulski said.

But Kukulski said that is just one part of the solution.

According to police, Billings has seen 39 shootings this year, including nine homicides.

U.S. Attorney Jesse Laslovich of Montana attended the safety discussion meeting and plans to speak about resources his office can provide. He said that while discussions between law enforcement occur weekly, if not daily, this is the first time the council will be involved in an open discussion with all law enforcement.

“We obviously don’t want to tip our hand to those who are seeking to harm people in this community, but I'm excited about the additional resources we’re going to be throwing at this,” Laslovich said. “Being targeted in the work that we’re trying to do as it relates to gang violence in particular and of course we know that is related to gun violence.”

Mayor Bill Cole opened up the talks about reducing family violence, criminal intervention, violent and property crimes, and public safety.

And city administrator Chris Kukulski talked about the young age in which criminals are now getting started.

"I can relate to some of this stuff, especially the gang involvement," said Tanya Ludwig. "It's an issue with our kids today. I'm a victim. I lost my son in 2020."

During public comment, Ludwig addressed the impact gangs have had on her family.

"Crime has reached a crisis point for Billings businesses, and importantly the image statewide of Yellowstone County," said Gary Buchanan, a Billings businessman.

Others from the community say a new jail is necessary, which a county subcommittee has studied and others also commented about what they see as challenges.

"I personally drive to the mayor and city council on this," one citizen said. "What are you doing resources? What are you shooting at?"

"Instead of focusing on incarcerating and prosecuting domestic abusers which will always be part of the process, we need to focus on preventing re-victimization and reducing the available pool of victims for domestic abusers generally," said Ben Halvorsone, deputy attorney.

"The captain in my patrol divisions said that we had 15 people in jail for domestic abuse this past weekend," said Yellowstone County Sheriff Mike Linder. "That's probably more than anything else."

This meeting involved about five topics and another five will be addressed at a future meeting.