Explained: Gangs, Drive Bys, and Drug Cartels in Billings, MT
What's driving the gang violence in a place like Billings, Montana? Where did some of those downtown transients go? How bad is it getting? Is there any good news when it comes to public safety in Montana's biggest town? We tackled that and more with the police chief and a couple council members.
Billings Police Chief Rich St. John and Billings City Council Members Jennifer Owen and Pam Purinton joined us in studio for a near hour long conversation talking about public safety in Billings.
We asked the chief about the youth gang violence that has been dominating headlines in Billings.
Chief St. John: Unfortunately, we had a couple of drive-bys and what not. But the level of violence that we saw, which really started with the Metra shooting last year, and then we had the perpetrator violence cycle taking place, has really been tamped down. And so that reflected in some of our numbers. We're just one bad weekend away from being off the charts again.
The chief agreed with the assessment of the head of the DEA here in Montana who told us recently that the Mexican drug cartels are helping to drive the youth gang activity in places like Billings and Hardin.
The chief told us how a recently hired officer with the Billings Police Department came from Southern California and saw exactly what was happening with the gang activity in Billings.
Chief St. John: We hired an individual who came from LA County, and was able to identify some of the budding problems that we saw. He brought it to my attention, and you know, he's not afraid to tell the emperor that you're naked and corrected my way of thinking on that. And, so I heeded the advice and we were in a position to retask some of our resources, street crime specifically, we've had a program to identify gang affiliation and attack that directly.