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Perception versus reality: Calls for service, crime trending down in Billings

Billings Police Scene
Posted at 1:28 PM, Mar 31, 2023

BILLINGS — Billings crime went down in 2022, but police and the public say crime is still not a matter our community should take lightly.

With smartphones, Ring cameras, and social media—it's easier for people to share what they're seeing when it comes to crime.

“I have two small kids and I feel like it’s gotten a little bit worse in the last year," said Olivia Nielsen, a Billings resident. "Or we’re hearing about it more."

Shari Nault agrees: “I suspect it might be getting worse, simply because there’s more drugs."

But Billings police say crime overall went down in 2022, according to their annual report released Wednesday, and perception is not always reality.

“You need to step back and look at the thing holistically. Our crimes are down, our calls for service are down, the aggravated assaults are down—that indicates that what we’re doing is down. Everybody is stepping up to the plate on this," Billings Police Chief Rich St. John said Thursday during a news conference.

Recently released data from BPD shows an overall decrease in drug crime, property crime, and assault, but homicides doubled and robberies are up.

“There’s people, there’s families, there’s friends, there’s victims, involved in that," St. John said.

Many types of crime increased throughout the pandemic, and St. John says it won't be easy to turn that trend around, especially with mental health playing a significant role in incidents where police are responding.

“I would say the great majority. If it’s not mental health, it’s addiction issues or a combination of both. Very, very common for us to have to deal with that," St. John said.

People in downtown Billings said Thursday they see crime related to drugs, along with a growing population, and they think the community is hearing more about it.

“I feel like everyone’s talking about crime, especially the shootings the last weeks," said Olivia Nielsen, who was walking downtown Thursday.

“I think what’s happened, too, is that we’ve had about three episodes in a row that were brought to the public eye. Does that mean there’s more? I don’t know," said Shari Nault, who works downtown.

But Nault and Nielsen say overall they appreciate the work police are doing and say the town overall is going in a good direction.

“I think they’re doing the best they can. We’re a small town turning into a big city and it’s growing pains," Nielsen said.

“I love being downtown Billings. It’s a great place to live and do business with our shop," Nault said.