In September one evening, police arrived at a scene just west of downtown and found a 38-year-old man lying in the street with a gunshot wound. A woman had fired the shot while he was driving by but was aiming for another man, the victim's passenger, according to charges. The victim was taken to the hospital and survived.
In November, a 37-year-old man was shot in the buttocks while driving on the North Side shortly after midnight and had to flag down a ride to the hospital when his own car stalled out. He'd been arguing with the shooter for weeks, according to charges, and prosecutors say the shooter made a death threat to the victim a few days before.
But while the cluster of gunfire comes amid rising violent crime rates locally, there’s no evidence that gun violence in 2018 was any higher than average.
In Yellowstone County, the rate of non-fatal shootings hasn’t shown much variance in recent years. There were four such calls to sheriff’s deputies in 2016, three in 2017 and four in 2018, as of Dec. 12. Of the 11 calls, only one resulted in injuries, when two people were shot at a residence.
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The county reports included three drive-by shootings and three instances of guns being fired at a party. There was one report each of someone firing at an occupied vehicle, shooting a dog and threatening to shoot the owner, and firing into the air to intimidate others, according to Yellowstone County Sheriff Mike Linder. Once someone pointed a gun at another person and pulled the trigger, but the gun misfired.
The Billings Police Department doesn’t track shootings alone, but its “assault with a firearm” statistics — which include pointing a gun at someone and not firing it — show no clear trends in recent years. There were 34 such calls in 2016, 29 in 2017 and 35 as of Dec. 6, when this year's data was compiled.
But while there’s no clear indication shootings are becoming more common in Billings, BPD Lt. Brandon Wooley said the issue shouldn’t be ignored.
“This is a problem, and I guess we don’t need it to be this glaring problem where you see hundreds and hundreds of extra crimes,” Wooley said, before officials become concerned.