BILLINGS – A recent shooting in Pioneer Park has sparked questions about safety in area parks around Billings.
According to the Billings police officer assigned to the parks beat, violence like the early Sunday morning incident that sent three teens to the hospital are rare, and response calls are down. And those are typically related to the transient population.
“I’m here to primarily in the morning hours to help with the kid camps and clear out some of the homeless population who have been sleeping in these parks in the morning and patrolling the parks in the daytime hours,” said Officer Nicholas Lam, who has been the parks officer since the position was created in 2017.
In the past few years, the amount of homeless in Billings has been a problem in primarily the North Park, South Park, and Dehler Park areas.
“I am not sure if some of that had to do with the construction. It was a little harder to access in those nooks and crannies up in that area,” Lam said, “but in the downtown and central area, the parks that border that area we have probably the most issues.”
Lam stays busy with over 100 parks in the Billings area to patrol. One of the most common problems he says he comes across is people drinking in the park.
“We have been able to really last summer hammer down on some people with lots of citations and tickets and let them know you can’t drink in the parks. You can’t be here after hours, and we were able to get that cleaned up,” he said.
Since the inception of the park officer position, the city has seen a 33 percent reduction in calls to the parks.
“I think it has to do with my position a little bit, but a big part of my position has been to preach to the public and the number of task forces around town that it takes a community to take ownership of a park,” said Lam. “The police can only do so much with what we can and can’t police but it takes a community to be out in the parks and enjoying them. It keeps a lot of crime and kind of issues away.”
Police are continuing to investigate the shooting at Pioneer Park. The three teens, two boys and an 18-year-old woman, were taken by private vehicles to the hospital. Police say there is no danger to the public.
Reporting by Zoe Zandora for MTN News