AP NEWS

Crackdown slows but doesn’t stop violent crime increase

May 8, 2019
U.S. Attorney Kurt Alme speaks about the results of an initiative to crack down on violent crime in front of a table with seized firearms on Wednesday, May 8, 2019 at the federal courthouse in Billings, Mont. (AP Photo/Matthew Brown)

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Targeting violent criminals has helped slow an increase in serious crime rates in Montana’s most populous county being driven largely by methamphetamine trafficking and abuse, law enforcement officials said Wednesday.

U.S. Attorney Kurt Alme and state Attorney General Tim Fox joined local law enforcement in Billings to announce results from the first year of an initiative targeting violent offenders in Yellowstone County.

The number of murders, robberies and aggravated assaults in the county increased just over 1% over the past year, to 689, officials said. Those crimes had surged 26% in the prior year.

Alme credited the government’s Project Safe Neighborhoods initiative for helping bring federal charges against 170 defendants in Yellowstone for drug trafficking, armed robbery and firearms offenses. Officers also seized 212 firearms, including 57 assault rifles, and 245 pounds of meth worth an estimated $11 million.

“We’re targeting the right crimes,” Alme said. “A certain percentage of violent criminals commit a majority of violent crimes, so if you can target these alpha criminals you should be able to reduce violent crime.”

Despite the progress being made, methamphetamine continues to play a major role in many of the cases that come through the office of Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito.

In 2018, Twito’s office filed more than 700 felony drug possession charges and more than 100 drug distribution charges, with methamphetamine as the most frequent “drug of choice,” he said.

Methamphetamine use also often results in children being removed from their parents or guardians because of neglect, instances that Twito said have been on the rise.

“These families in our communities need help to break away from their drug use, their meth use,” he said.

A related crackdown on violent and meth-related offenses in Missoula County also is showing positive results, officials said, with further details expected in coming weeks.