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Chat with the Chief: St. John talks safety levy, use of force and body cam policy

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Posted at 10:14 PM, Mar 01, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-02 09:38:13-05

BILLINGS — Inside the Billings Public Library on Tuesday night, Billings Police Chief Rich St. John said he had one of the highest attendances ever for one of his Chat With the Chief events, where he told people about how the public safety mill levy is positively impacting the department, along with detailing policies about body cams and use of force.

"There is absolutely no effective policing unless there is trust. And we work very, very hard to attain and maintain the community's trust," St. John said.

Last year, Billings voters approved a $7 million public safety mill levy that added 14 sworn officers and 14 civilian employees to the department. St. John said the department is currently only short five people of the full staff of 166.

"We are full speed ahead. Since that has happened, we have basically promoted six command staff. We have balanced out a couple of specialized units to improve the efficiency and effectiveness. And we're hiring on Thursday for more. We are doing very well fulfilling the recommendations of the safety levy coupled with the stuff that didn't cost you money," St. John said.

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Billings Police Chief Rich St. John said the Mar. 1, 2022 Chat With the Chief event was his most attended one yet. Around 50 people met inside the Billings Public Library.

St. John said he couldn't comment on active investigations, but he was able to speak frankly about policies and procedures. He did speak about use of deadly force. People may remember in February when a Billings police officer shot and killed a man who was wielding a pellet gun pistol that looked remarkably similar to a real firearm.

"We have to deal with that and roll up on something with limited facts. I hear what you are saying. We could go around all night and people may agree with me or they may not. I'm just telling you it's a complicated thing. And we're doing everything that we can from the treatment side of things to the enforcement side of things," St. John said.

The chief also answered a question about what exactly the body camera policy is for the department. The public has criticized Officer Brett Hilde, the officer who shot the man wielding a pellet gun, for turning his camera on after his shots were fired.

"If we know we're going to go and have some citizen contact and whatnot, then we want that turned on. However the policy also says that you do not have to subject yourself to getting injured to turn the camera on to make sure that you don't get a letter from St. John," he said.

Watch the meeting in its entirety on Community 7 TV's Facebook page by clicking here.

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