Police Chief Rich St. John acknowledged Thursday that gang activity is responsible for recent violence in Billings, and he and other community leaders vowed to take a hard line to stop the problem.
“The department will aggressively address dangerous criminal behavior and will not allow such acts to become a new normal in Billings,” St. John said at a news conference at the Billings police maintenance facility.
St. John and others called for community-wide solutions, including better storage of firearms in vehicles and homes, more jail capacity and early intervention to head off escalating youth violence.
In October alone, police recovered 27 firearms related to gang activity and drug trafficking, and St. John and Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito both noted increases in stolen guns later being used in violent crimes.
“The amount of guns involved in these incidents is shocking, even to me,” Twito said.
In recent months, police have identified 17 known adult gangs and seven known juvenile gangs in the Billings area, St. John said. They include affiliations with large organizations from both coasts, including Bloods and Crips, and smaller neighborhood gangs, St. John said.
Police have identified 363 adults on probation and parole in Billings with gang affiliation, and another 60 juveniles, St. John said, adding that not all of these people were actively involved in criminal activity.
The roughly 40-minute news conference was in response to a violent five-day stretch in Billings, which saw three deaths in three separate shootings across town.
“We cannot and will not let these killings define our community,” Billings Mayor Bill Cole said.
On Saturday, 18-year-old Chandler Stalcup was shot and later died at a hospital when he arrived at a party on the 800 block of Poly Drive to pick up teammates, who had been involved in an altercation at a party in the area. Two teenagers were arrested and will appear in Yellowstone County District Court Friday to answer to charges.
Then on Tuesday night, police responded to a report of shots fired at a home on the 1500 block of Colton Boulevard. No one was injured, and no arrests have been made.
On Wednesday morning, a group of people in a pickup pulled in front of a home on the 700 block of North Street and fired about two dozen bullets into the home. A 31-year-old man was found shot dead inside, and a 1-year-old baby boy was rushed to the hospital and later died.
No arrests have been made yet, but 10 people were detained following a standoff on the 300 block of South 28th Street. Police are continuing to investigate, St. John said.