After a recent string of shootings in Billings in recent months, police are trying to understand what’s behind the increase. They say a key ingredient to solving these incidents is the public’s help.
Data requested from the Billings Police Department states that in the month of April and May of 2021, there have been 15 reported shootings in Billings.
That number has tripled over the year for gun-related calls in the month of April alone. In April 2020, six gun-related calls were reported, and the number jumped to 18 in April 2021.
But police say the reason for these shootings is hard to pinpoint.
“I think we've all seen nationally the increase in gun violence,” said Cpt. Neil Lawrence with the Billings Police Department. “And I don't think our community's immune to it.”
Lawrence says this recent rash of shootings has kept detectives busier than normal because solving these crimes proves difficult when people are unwilling to cooperate with an investigation. “We don't have a lot of evidence to go on that we get from those who are involved. Sometimes victims don't want to cooperate, sometimes witnesses don't want to come forward.”
Coming off a year of lockdown and a pandemic could be a reason there’s an uptick in criminal activity, but even Lawrence says that theory hasn't been confirmed as a solid reason.
The upward trend has continued in May, with one reported gun-related call in 2019, two in 2020, and as of May 14, 10 gun-related incidents have been so far called into Billings police, five of which were actual shots fired.
“Guns have always been a problem, and they're always a concern,” said Lawrence. “But, unfortunately, there has been this uptick, nationally, and we're seeing right now.”
But there’s one crime-fighting element that Lawrence says could really help: “Just be the best witnesses you can be,” he said.
Many times, detectives get their tips from the public, and technology helps a tremendous amount, according to Lawrence, with home surveillance and doorbell cameras aiding in an investigation.
“If you see something and notify the police, our detectives are always going back to see maybe where a suspect of a crime came from or went to. (They) utilize a video from businesses and homes to do that.”