BILLINGS - According to the Billings police mid-year report, violent crime was down 11 percent in the first six months of 2023 compared to the same period the previous year.
The annual report tracks a variety of sectors of crime in the city, including violent crime, property crime, arrests, and citations and warnings.
The decline in violent crime came as a surprise for some Billings residents, including Erick Arthun, who was on his lunch break Monday in downtown Billings.
"I just see so much of it in the news and in print, you know," Arthun said. "I have a 14-year-old son, so I'm very concerned about it."
Arthun said it feels like the crime rate is higher than in years past because of the big incidents that make headlines.
"The shootings and stuff that has gone on," Arthun said. "It's bothersome."
Billings Police Chief Rich St. John said Monday that the report's numbers show that the public safety mill levy is starting to pay off.
"So far, our strategies have paid dividends," St. John said. "Our first half numbers are encouraging, but I'm not content to be sitting on this. I don't want an 'Atta Boy.' We've got more work to do."
St. John said that while the report shows declines in violent crime, property crime, and citations and warnings, there are other areas included in the report that need work. His main concern is the 1,032 people who were issued warrants that couldn't be served, meaning that the offenders were released back to the public. Oftentimes, that decision is made because of the lack of space in the jail.
"These people re-offend," St. John said. "They go out and commit more crimes. The worst thing that could happen is a domestic abuse suspect or assault suspect that goes back and kills somebody."
Still, St. John is happy with the progress and credits much of the improvement to the heightened focus on gang activity in Billings.
"We have focused our efforts on that to get a handle on it," St. John said. "The assessment is that it's here, but it's not unmanageable."
But St. John knows that even though the current strategies appear to be working, more will need to be done.
"We've identified a problem, and we are working as best we can with the available resources to get a handle on it," St. John said. "However, the criminal element adapts and we will have to as well."
For residents like Arthun, it's an encouraging report and one he hopes will be the start of a long-term trend.
"I think that's great. I mean if that's true, that's what we need to see," Arthun said. "I hope it continues to go down."