BILLINGS — U.S. Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) met with Billings-area law enforcement office at the police evidence facility on Friday.
He heard that a lot of crimes are related to drugs, and a lot of those drugs come in from the southern border.
Billings Police Lt. Mitch Hart gave Daines and his wife a tour of the facility.
Billings City Administrator Chris Kukulski and Daines brought a group together to talk about crime concerns. "Every time I hear drugs, we understand pretty immediately as a city we can't tackle that problem by ourselves," Kukulski said to Daines.
Daines asked Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito if some young people getting in trouble grew up in Montana.
"Would like individual case detail where I could say we had a very shocking downtown shooting right next to a very popular restaurant about a little after 11 p.m.," Twito said. "People would be downtown. They were all transplants to our community."
Violent crime has increased in Billings from 2019 to 2020 with assaults up 34%. Robberies are up 33% and homicides up more than 400%.
"And chief, it looks like this year we're up?" Daines asked to Billings Police Chief Rich St. John. "We're tracking to perhaps hit another, sadly, record number?
"Correct," St. John said. "We're on pace right now at little over mid-year, so hopefully we can turn."
And the chief talked about the possible solutions.
"We are heavily engaged in treatment, prevention, education to break that cycle," St. John said. "If there's no demand, then the market goes away. So we're trying things on the other side of it, to help break that demand cycle."
"In my opinion, if we can slow down the drugs coming across the border, then we can probably start getting a better handle on the crime that's going on in our communities," said Yellowstone County Sheriff Mike Linder.
"We have to continue to look for members of law enforcement, make their voices heard to not politicize this," Daines said. "But to get down to what's the source and of course it's going to take more than just stopping the source. This is about demand. It's about treatment. It's about education."
Also attending the event were Brian Gootkin, the director of the Montana Department of Corrections; District Judge Mary Jane Knisely; and Yellowstone County Commissioner John Ostlund.