BILLINGS – Four new officers were welcomed to the Billings Police Department Monday, but with the department facing an officer deficit for some time, are the new hires enough?
Billings Police Chief Rich St. John said it certainly helps.
In a district courtroom, with Judge Greg Todd presiding and loved ones watching, the four new officers were awarded their badges.
“This group has been officers before, so they are going to hit the ground running,” said St. John.
The officers will only need about a month of internal training before they can hit the street, according to St. John.
Before this hiring, the Billings Police Department was down 12 to 14 percent from the full capacity of officers.
“We’ve been working with a deficit in our staffing for the past several months,” said St. John.
That deficit though is quickly filling up.
Another four officers will start the police academy on Friday and another three officers have been offered positions with Billings police.
It will take a few months before those particular officers can start taking calls.
However, that still puts the department short roughly three or four officers, said St. John.
The officer deficit is something St. John said the department has had to cope with by moving officers off specialized divisions to help in day to day 911 calls.
“That has required us to re-task some of our specialized positions pull them off of the proactive duties that they do to help respond to calls for service,” said St. John.
These new officers will help fill that void.
“Then we can release those officers back to their proactive, which is where we want to be on all of our enforcement efforts,” he said.
Out of 100 applicants, 40 were tested.
St. John also said the addition of one new female officer at Monday’s swearing-in ceremony, Annalisa Jones, brings the department’s women officers to 12.
And there’s this: former Yellowstone County sheriff’s Detective Vince Wallis recently retired from that position to become one of Monday’s newly sworn-in patrol officers.
Wallis’ son who is of a higher rank with the police department, handed out his father’s badge at the ceremony.
In addition to that, Quin Johnson and Cameron Farrell were also sworn in.
“So now we are in a better position,” said St. John.
A better position to spend time with the victims too. St. John said ideally officers should be spending 45 minutes with victims of each call and lately there’s been no time for that.
He said the more officers, the longer they can spend investigating calls, something he says is important for the safety of Billings.
St John says there is a constant cycle when it comes to hiring; from things like officers taking retirement and the department gradually reducing their force through attrition.
Reporting by Andrea Lutz for MTN News