GFPD chief addresses recent violence

Great Falls Police Chief Jeff Newton addressed the string of recent violent crimes in the city.

“It’s been a challenging, trying time,” for the community, Newton said.

On Feb. 21, a 14-year-old was charged for shooting a 15-year-old who was walking to school.

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On March 7, an officer and suspect were shot during a pursuit that stemmed from a traffic stop.

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On March 16, a man was fatally shot.

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On March 17, a man fatally shot someone in a residence in a domestic violence incident, then fled to Valier, where he shot himself after a standoff with police.

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On March 20, a man was shot and the suspect barricaded himself in a residence.

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“We understand there is fear in the community,” Newton said.

Many of the investigations are ongoing so Newton said he couldn’t give specifics.

He said he and the GFPD appreciate the community support.

He said officials have looked at the incidents to determine any causal factors between them and and said with the exception of the March 7 officer involved shooting, all of the incidents involved people who knew each other and were not random.

In some cases, narcotics were involved, he said.

At this point, Newton said, they were “five independent things that occurred in a very close proximity. Why? I don’t know.”

For major events, Newton said it’s all hands on deck and the department’s resources and personnel are strained.

An officer involved shooting is a “traumatic event” for officers involved and the rest of the department, as well as dispatchers, Newton said.

“They hear all this stuff, but nothing they can do about it but do what they do the best and dispatch resources,” he said. “Our folks are tired.”

He said they have to call in personnel to backfill, the Cascade County Sheriff’s Office has assisted, as have state and federal partners.

Currently, Newton said he’s down 11 patrol officers due to injuries and vacancies.

He said with the recent incidents, the department is having to prioritize cases and asked the public to understand the strain on their resources.

Newton said he spoke to the Billings police chief this week as an officer was recently shot there, a Montana Highway Patrol trooper was injured on duty in February and other Montana communities have been experiencing an increase in violent incidents, many of which are related to narcotics.

He said the Montana Department of Justice’s Division of Criminal Investigation, which is called in to handle officer involved shootings, is also overwhelmed.

Newton said they’re seeing an increase in people handling disagreements with weapons.

He asked the public to continue reporting suspicious behavior, engage with neighborhood councils and register their security cameras so police know what’s available in areas where crimes occur. He said the police do not have access to the cameras, but the registry lets investigators quickly see where cameras are in the area and can ask a property owner to share that footage though it’s not required.

Commissioner Susan Wolff said that when she hears of these incidents, she wants to go to GFPD and hug the officers.