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Billings police: 'Context' needed after outside report reveals efficiency gaps

200-page report takes magnifying glass to Billings Police Department
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Posted at 6:37 PM, Mar 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-02 20:37:28-05

BILLINGS- Those with the Billings Police department are giving context to a 200-page report looking into the efficiencies of practices and protocols for the agency.

The report, provided by the Center for Public Safety Management and presented to Billings City Council Monday evening, gives an in-depth analysis of the inner workings of the department and provides over a hundred recommendations, from staffing to data collection to how the department deals with the use of force and evidence collection.

One day after the report was presented to the public, MTN News got reaction from the department’s media liaison, Lt Brandon Wooley on three main topics of the report: facilities, staffing, and response times.

Wooley says that data now needs context.

“It's great to have somebody come in outside and look at your organization and give you recommendations. I think it's a healthy approach, but then we also have to add the context to it,” he said.

The report is in response to a National Police Services Survey, which asked Billings residents a variety of questions about crime in the city.

But Wooley believes there’s little in the report aimed at ways to lower crime in Billings.

“While we can put a lot of assets towards running efficiently and help us towards that goal at the end of the day, officers on the streets is one of the number one priority for that dealings," he said.

Overall, the report found three common themes that place challenges on the department: facilities or lack thereof, insufficient staffing, and organizational structure. Each item has a significant impact on the quality of life for Billings residents and visitors.

Recommendation on facilities

The report says the police department operates out of multiple facilities: downtown headquarters, “the barn” that houses patrol, an evidence facility, and off-site offices, and a crime prevention center.

As a result, the report says staff must routinely travel between those facilities to perform essential work functions. That leaves behind an inefficiency. The report suggests the department pursue opportunities to acquire and relocate to a police facility.

“For us to be able to house 80 police officers and an evidence facility in the downtown area, that's just not feasible,” said Wooley. “Even if you did have money for that, then you would be moving your services to maybe another location that wouldn't be accessible by other people."

Recommendation on staffing

The report found that some assignments need immediate and urgent additional staffing.

So, there's the recommendation to start utilizing civilian staff, whom the report refers to as police service officers or community service officers.

The report says this practice could save money for the department, with those employees performing several functions performed by sworn officers to reduce heavy workload.

However, Wooley says those positions do cost money.

“You're looking at roughly, with a benefits package, about $75,000 a year per,” he said.

But the report suggests the positions could improve work quality and suggests the department creates a civilian work ladder with the initiative to hire four full-time police service officers.

“I think the response is going to be, that's going to cost money,” he said.

Recommendation on response times

The report also handed down a suggestion that the department work with 911 dispatch to identify what's causing excessively long response times for high priority calls.

The report says those response times average roughly 12 minutes. And within that, there’s a dispatch delay of roughly seven minutes, leaving officers in the field, unaware of an impending emergency.

Calls are divided into four categories, critical, high priority, medium priority, and low priority.

The study uses the example of an “accident with injury” where both fire and police generally respond-- but it may be that a fire unit is more readily available than a police unit, reducing the dispatch delay.

“Our dispatch always prioritizes sending officers and responding to crimes against persons in progress,” Wooley said. “So, if you have nine officers over three shifts, roughly 27 to 30 officers per day who are responding to anywhere between 250 and 300 calls for service a day.”

The report says the same reports are done for cities the size of Billings put the average dispatch delay response time at just two minutes.

That same-sized agency cited in the report also had fewer calls.

“When officers are already out dealing with an accident, or you might have two or three tied up who are doing traffic control to make sure it's safe, then you have an in-progress (call) in the same area. So, it just goes to reinforce to us that we're understaffed and our calls for service are higher than the national average,” he said.

The report is filled with in-depth analysis for each sector of the department and provides recommendations from case management and records to training, task forces, recruitment, and hiring to taking personnel complaints and the jail.