Violent crime in Missoula County declined in the last 12 months, aligning with the starting point of a new multi-agency law enforcement initiative.
U.S. Attorney for Montana Kurt Alme said at a news conference Wednesday that since the Project Safe Neighborhoods launched last May, murder, robberies and aggravated assaults in Missoula County decreased 18.5%. That's after a 49% increase from 2011 to 2017.
The U.S. Attorney's Office, along with fellow Project Safe Neighborhoods agencies — including the Missoula County Attorney's Office, Missoula County Sheriff's Office, Missoula Police Department, Montana Department of Corrections, Montana Highway Patrol, U.S. Marshals, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Homeland Security and the Montana Attorney General's Office — issued an update on the initiative at a news conference Wednesday. In the last year, each agency has been direct about the source of violent crime: methamphetamine.
The drugs are trafficked from Mexico up the West Coast and eventually into Montana. Alme said he believes Montana's location as the end of the supply chain gives them the upper hand.
"We think we can disrupt and we think we can dismantle these organizations and make the cost of business to distribute drugs in Montana high," Alme told reporters. "Of course, we also need demand reduction."
The initiative stems from a U.S. Department of Justice effort to address rising violent crime, which climbed 35% statewide from 2013 to 2017.
"We now have the second highest violent crime rate in the northwest, second only to South Dakota," Alme said.
What law enforcement agencies are doing now through the initiative that wasn't done before is essentially communicating on a regular basis about cases. Leadership meets on a monthly basis now, Alme said, while "tactical" on-the-ground officers meet every three weeks to discuss cases and identify dangerous individuals.
"The goal is to arrest Missoula's most dangerous armed robbers, meth traffickers, and dealers and violent felons with firearms," Missoula County Attorney Kirsten Pabst said. "We are cautiously optimistic in seeing a fairly significant decrease in the indexed crimes."
Different levels of law enforcement are taking different actions specific to their jurisdictions. Montana Highway Patrol, for example, received funding from the 2019 Legislature for another interdiction team to patrol the highways, said MHP Col. Tom Butler. In the city, new grant funding has extended a position at the Missoula Police Department to collect and analyze violent crime data from 2014 to today, information that can be shared across the agencies involved in Project Safe Neighborhoods.
A tabletop covered in seized firearms helped illustrate the violence associated with meth distribution, while the numbers provided were broken down to show its ripple effect. Alme said the more than 20 pounds of meth seized in the last year amounts to over 74,000 doses of the drug.
"When we got started, everyone in this room, we sat in a room together and tried to figure what was going on," Alme said. "We built this program together."