HELENA — The Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s Office says they have been investigating significantly more cases of sexual and domestic violence over the last year.
Sheriff Leo Dutton said, in 2018, his office handled 23 cases of sexual intercourse without consent. In 2019, the number rose to 47. The number of partner and family member assault investigations rose from 84 in 2018 to 192 in 2019.
However, Dutton said he doesn’t believe the county is seeing a spike in those crimes.
“I don’t know if we’ve had a dramatic increase, but we’ve had a dramatic increase of people reporting them,” he said.
Dutton said his office – along with the county attorney’s office, local mental health services and groups like the Friendship Center – have put an emphasis on serving victims and addressing their needs before, during and after any investigation.
“It’s not just us – we’re happy to be part of this team – but it is a collaboration between many partners that’s actually doing something for victims,” he said. “I think that’s why you’re seeing the increase in numbers, is that the victims see that.”
One big step for the sheriff’s office has been assigning a detective to focus specifically on sexual and domestic violence cases. Cpl. Greg Holmlund is the department’s Violence Against Women Act investigator. The county receives a grant through the Montana Board of Crime Control that pays for 75% of the cost of the position, while the sheriff’s office covers the rest.
“It’s a competitive grant,” Dutton said. “We have to prove our numbers and show what we’re doing and have data to back that up.”
Earlier this month, the Lewis and Clark County Commission voted to accept the $66,000 grant for another year. Holmlund talked to commissioners about his work and about some of the ways he tries to make things easier for victims. He said he generally gives them several days before interviewing them, and that he usually holds interviews at an advocacy center – a more comfortable environment where victims can feel secure and have advocates with them.
Dutton said he’s proud of the work Holmlund and the rest of the sheriff’s office have done on resolving these cases, but that their next goal will be to reduce the actual number of offenses.
“Something has to be done ahead of time,” he said. “How do we reach these people; how do we teach young men and women that no means no, and it’s not okay to rape and abuse?”