Violent crime in Yellowstone County has increased significantly since COVID-19 appeared in Montana, a trend law enforcement attribute to methamphetamine and domestic violence, federal and local law enforcement officials announced.

Yellowstone County has had 67 more victims of murder, robbery and aggravated assault this year for the months March through July than there were for the same period in the previous year, almost a 21 percent increase. The crimes include eight murders, more than occurred in all of 2019, along with numerous non-fatal shooting and stabbings.

Robberies have also increased 44 percent.

U.S. Attorney Kurt Alme, Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito, Yellowstone County Sheriff Mike Linder and Billings Police Chief Rich St. John discussed the increasing violence during a press conference on the Yellowstone County Courthouse Lawn.

“Those who push meth will be caught and prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” U.S. Attorney Kurt Alme said. “In addition, those with a firearm after committing domestic violence or receiving a restraining order will be prosecuted federally.”

The law enforcement officials explained that both meth dealing and use have contributed to the increase in violent crime. A July report by Millennium Health showed that since March, positive meth urinalysis tests in Montana have increased almost 34 percent. The nationwide increase for positive meth tests is almost 20 percent. The report also found that nearly half of all Americans believe COVID-19 is harming their mental health.

In response to previous increases in meth-related violent crime in Yellowstone County, in 2018, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, together with federal, state, and local law enforcement reinvigorated Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), a U.S. Department of Justice initiative to reduce violent crime.

Since PSN began in Yellowstone County, 270 individuals have been charged with meth distribution, armed robbery and firearms offenses in federal court, 333 pounds of meth and 343 firearms have been seized, including 78 semi-automatic rifles. In addition, the U.S. Marshal’s Service’s Violent Offender Task Force has arrested 1,334 offenders through July.

The officials also urged support for expanding drug prevention and treatment programs through the community plan created earlier this year by Yellowstone Substance Abuse Connect, a coalition of non-profit and governmental organizations working to reduce the demand for meth.

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