On Special Assignment: Law enforcement battling rising property - KTVQ.com | Q2 | Continuous News Coverage | Billings, MT

On Special Assignment: Law enforcement battling rising property crime in Billings

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BILLINGS - Property crime can be found in towns of any size, but Billings is witnessing a rise.

Whether it's burglary, larceny, vehicle theft, or arson, as many as 17 of these crimes happen here each day. That equates to roughly one every 90 minutes, and it's becoming more frequent.

Billings resident Eli Harmoning has fallen victim to seven thefts in six years.

"My motorcycle twice. Tools. After-market tail lights. Work keys and my garage door opener out of the vehicle. And then my truck," Harmoning said.

Harmoning keeps a good attitude about what seemed to him like targeting. He thanked law enforcement for their effort but admitted he needed to be persistent to see his property returned.

Latest numbers from the Billings Police Department show 6,093 property crimes occurred in the Billings are in 2016, an uptick from the previous year. Billings police will release 2017 numbers at the end of February.

"Thefts were one of our highest calls for service that our officers went to," said Lt. Neil Lawrence. "That doesn't include shoplifting, which is a high number also. Put those together and you have a high level of theft going on."

Seventy property crimes happened in rural Yellowstone County in January alone, setting a pace for 840 in small towns outside of city limits.

Social media sites and apps have made recovery of stolen items even more difficult.

"There are over 10 sites that we know and look at every once and awhile to at least try to find stolen property," said Kallie Parsons, Crime Prevention Center volunteer coordinator. "And property could be coming from all over the state and all over the region, not just out of Billings."

The Crime Prevention Center assists on a number of cases that don't include suspect descriptions. It finalized more than 1,600 cases in 2017, but officials do not have a count of cases that recovered items.

Volunteers who work at the center want to help recover as much stolen property as possible. 

"They do care about these smaller crimes," Parons said. "Even though it's not in progress and its not the sexy cases, they still take the time to get the information and want to help these people get their stuff back."

The most stolen item may surprise you -- tools. While it might seem obvious, writing down serial numbers, even creating hidden markings can help protect them before thieves strike.

Lawrence says recovering the stolen property is a slim proposition. Even if it is recovered, it may not be in the condition the item was in when it was stolen.

"There are times we found out who did the theft, we are able to make an arrest. A lot of the times that property is gone. And then the best route is through the courts in order to award some type of compensation back to the victim."

Haroming, who admits at times he took the responsibility into his own hands by confronting those who stole his property, has advice.

"Don't advertise on social media about what you have. Don't make yourself an easy target.  Pursue the stuff yourself if it does happen to you. Had I not tried myself, I don't know if I would have got that stuff back, to be honest."

Billings police are making headway on the issue of property crime. The Street Crime Unit, a unit used in the 90s and 2000s before being disbanded because of staffing shortages, has been revived to help combat thefts like these.

The unit has only been active since mid-January but Billings police say it is already seeing results.

The department will also resubscribe to the website Crime Mapping that will provide map of where crimes occur in the city.

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