One year into a federal initiative aimed at reducing violent crime rates, law enforcement officials in Billings say they’ve curbed an upward trend.
The violent crime rate in Yellowstone County increased year over year over the past half-decade, sometimes jumping as much as 26 percent in a given twelve months.
But since last April, the rate of murders, robberies and aggravated assaults grew just 1.3 percent.
Montana Attorney General Tim Fox attributes the plateau to Project Safe Neighborhoods, a reinvigorated U.S. Department of Justice initiative that fosters cooperation between local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to reduce crime and develop substance abuse treatment and prevention strategies.
"Everyone is putting more resources into this problem in recent years and it's because of the crescendo that's been talked about today - the impact on lives, families and businesses in our communities as a whole," Fox says.
Speaking at a press conference at the federal courthouse Wednesday, U.S. Attorney Kurt Alme said drug trafficking and use, particularly meth, is the cause of most violent crimes in Yellowstone County. He says by using local law enforcement data, state and federal agencies have been better able to target the few people who commit the majority of violent crimes.
"So if you can target these alpha criminals, then you should be able to reduce violent crime," Alme says. "Go to the right area and target the right people and get the most violent people off the street."
The U.S. Attorney’s Office says it’s charged 170 defendants in Yellowstone County with federal meth trafficking, armed robbery and firearms offenses since Project Safe Neighborhoods began last year. 245 pounds of meth -- or about 890,000 doses with an estimated $11 million in street value -- has been seized.
Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito says arrests and convictions are just one avenue of the Project.
"Others in the community need to get together to further these efforts by reducing the demand for this horrible drug," Twito says.
Yellowstone Substance Abuse Connect, a coalition of more than 50 area nonprofit, government and service agencies that formed last May, has been using federal grant money to draft a formal community assessment of existing resources and gaps to combat meth use.
Yellowstone Connect will present initial findings Friday and expects to release a comprehensive community plan by July.