Project Safe Neighborhoods Yellowstone County shows progress in fighting violent crime
BILLINGS – In the past six months, law enforcement officers have charged 106 persons in federal and state court, seized 160 pounds of methamphetamine and confiscated 52 firearms from the Yellowstone County community as part of Project Safe Neighborhoods, a federal program to reduce violent crime through a multi-jurisdictional law enforcement effort.
Violent crime in the community is a serious problem. Billings Police Department information shows the violent crime rate has increased 75 percent from 2010 to 2017. And violent crime in Montana has increased almost 35 percent from its low in 2010 through 2016, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports.
More recently, the 2018 first quarter figures of murders, robberies and aggravated assaults in Yellowstone County were up more than 29 percent from the first quarter average of the prior two years.
Since PSN began in April, violent crime in the community has decreased back to previous levels.
Montana U.S. Attorney Kurt Alme said the six-month figures, for the second and third quarters, indicate that murders, aggravated assaults and robberies are down 1 percent below the average of the previous two years.
“We believe the numbers show that PSN is working to reduce violent crime but that more work needs done,” Alme said.
Alme thanked all of PSN’s law enforcement partners for their work and commitment in investigating, arresting and prosecuting individuals accused of violent crimes.
Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito said PSN’s message continues to be, “If you commit armed robbery, push meth or commit a firearms offense, you will be arrested and you will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”
PSN is a reinvigorated U.S. Department of Justice initiative that identifies the most violent criminals in high-crime areas and works with federal, state and local law enforcement and community partners to develop a crime-reduction and substance abuse prevention and treatment strategy. DOJ celebrated PSN’s one-year anniversary earlier this month.
PSN Yellowstone County has been working to arrest armed robbers, methamphetamine traffickers and violent felons possessing firearms. Law enforcement officials have identified methamphetamine as a primary cause for the increase in violent crime.
Information from PSN Yellowstone County’s first six months shows that 106 individuals have been charged, with 87 individuals being prosecuted in U.S. District Court and 19 individuals, who face more than 40 serious felony charges, being prosecuted in state District Court. The state cases include persons charged and revocations. Federal prosecutors intend to present charges against another 14 individuals soon.
The crimes charged include drug trafficking, armed robberies, firearms violations and other offenses.
Statewide, the PSN program since January has resulted in 187 individuals being charged in federal court.
In addition, the U.S. Marshal’s Service Montana Violent Offender Task Force has served warrants on 288 individuals since April 1.
Methamphetamine seized through PSN Yellowstone County has totaled 160 pounds, which is the equivalent of about 579,840 doses and has a street value of about $7,273,200. Law enforcement also seized marijuana, heroin and cocaine.
Law enforcement has confiscated 52 firearms, including six semi-automatic assault rifles and an assortment of semi-automatic handguns and shotguns.
To help fund PSN in Montana, DOJ earlier this month awarded $136,802 to the Montana Board of Crime Control for PSN initiatives in Yellowstone and Missoula counties. The funding is part of $30 million in grants issued nationwide at PSN’s one-year anniversary. Some of the money will help the Billings Police Department analyze PSN cases to understand where and when violence is happening and who is committing it so law enforcement can better focus its resources.
PSN Yellowstone County’s partners include the U.S. Attorney’s Office; Yellowstone County Attorney’s Office; Montana Department of Justice’s Prosecution Services Division, Highway Patrol and the Division of Criminal Investigation; the Montana Department of Correction’s Adult Probation and Parole Division; the Billings and Laurel police departments; the Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Office; Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Drug Enforcement Administration; FBI, Homeland Security Investigations and the U.S. Marshal’s Service.