City asks feds for more public safety resources; continues discussion of task force recommendations
City Commissioners voted unanimously during their March 1 meeting to adopt a resolution asking the federal delegation to provide more public safety resources.
The resolution is part of the recommendations from the city’s crime task force that was created a year ago.
The group sent a lengthy list of recommendations to the commission in November and the commission has spent the last few months attempting to prioritize those to figure out what they can or want to implement.
One of the recommendations was to ask the federal government for more resources and staff suggested doing so in the form of a resolution, which they presented to commissioners on March 1.
The resolution to the congressional delegation specifically asks the congressional delegation and possibly the Montana Department of Justice to:
- Request more drug enforcement agents, “recognizing the statewide drug problem from Mexico, so that local officials can communicate with congressional delegates the need for additional federal resources to mitigate multi-state narcotics and firearm crimes;”
- Request an FBI representative be assigned to the Safe Trails Task Force;
- Request an additional U.S. Postal Inspector, “recognizing that two for the entire state of
Montana is not enough.”
Commissioner Joe McKenney said that it was great to do the resolution, which is a low cost action, but the city still needs a long term plan to address crime and underlying causes such as addiction and mental health.
“As we’re picking the low hanging fruit of the crime task force, there are tough decisions ahead of us,” McKenney said.
During the work session, City Manager Greg Doyon said that there’s a “big chunk” of the recommendations that would need alternative funding and staff and officials were still working through the list to prioritize.
Commissioner Rick Tryon, who suggested the crime task force in January 2021, said that there’s a perception that the recommendations have stalled.
He said that “we are moving full steam ahead” and bringing recommendations to the commission.
Some will be sent back to staff for further review he said.
During the Feb. 15 meeting, commissioners spent considerable time discussing whether they should set broad policy and leave it to staff to make decisions on what specific to implement or to take specific action based on the recommendations that the commission directed the task force to bring to them.
Tryon said some of the recommendations will be implemented, some will not.
“The process is continuing,” he said.
Tryon said that the recommendations are subject to public scrutiny and comment and “everything we do is transparent and open for public comment. The public is always invited to weight in on all of these issues.”
During the work session, Tryon said that the city should conduct a community impact survey of repeat users similar to what the Billings Police Department did last summer.
He said the study would cost an estimated $100,000.
The Billings Police Department conducted that analysis internally and based on the document and local news coverage, it did not cost that much.
The Billings study used internal data to determine that 93 chronic high utilizers cost the city about $10.3 million in public services annually. According to Billings, it costs an estimated $111,050 to serve one chronically homeless individual for a year in emergency services and hospitalizations.
Mayor Bob Kelly said during the meeting that he had not seen a copy of the study and that he didn’t think any of the commissioners had seen it.
The study was publicly released by Billings last summer, covered in the local press and discussed in crime task force meetings.
The Electric reported on the study, with links to the document, in August and throughout our coverage of the crime task force discussions and recommendations.
It’s the first result on a Google search of “Billings community impact study.”
Staff indicated that they have provided the study to the crime task force and the commission.
During a break between the work session and regular meeting, Doyon sent the link to the internal Billings study to commissioners.
Kelly forwarded it to The Electric on March 2 and said it was the first time he was seeing it.
There seemed to be some confusion between the internal review of chronic users of the emergency services and an comprehensive review of the Billings Police Department by an third party organization.
Last year, the Center for Public Safety Management conducted a study on Billings Police using data collected from 2019.
That report was presented to the Billings City Council in 2021 and reported in local press.
According to the City of Billings, the city entered a contract with the Center for Public Safety Management for analysis of their police, fire and EMS services.
The total contract price was broken out as:
- Law enforcement analysis $64,800
- Fire and EMS analysis $55,800
- Travel and incidentals $8,000
The total cost to the city was $125,162.24 since they didn’t need as much travel as was estimated in the contract, according to Billings city officials, and the costs were paid through the city’s general fund.