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Police respond to the scene

The Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s Office and Helena Police Department respond to a shooting that killed two people on Helena’s Westside in December 2018.

Some websites can make cities such as Helena appear much more dangerous than they really are, Helena's interim Police Chief Steve Hagen told the city commission Wednesday. 

Hagen pulled statistics from city-data.com, which say Helena is more dangerous than Great Falls, Billings and Las Vegas. That information should be questioned, he said, as the website also lists Helena's median rent as $398 per month and Bozeman's median home price at $153,293. 

"Compared to other major cities in Montana, we're right in the middle of the pack," Hagen said about crime. "We're right in line with other major cities."

Using 10 years of data compiled from the Montana Board of Crime Control and the National Incident Based Reporting System, an FBI crime-data repository, Hagen went through numbers specific to Helena. Because the data is from 2007-2017, Hagen warned the data might not completely reflect changes in state criminal code and recent trends in the city.

Domestic violence, property crimes, thefts, burglaries, robberies, assault and rape all increased in that time frame. There was a major increase in reports of robbery and rape.

Hagen credited the increase in reports to the Helena Police Department's policy changes and work with groups like the Friendship Center, which provides free shelter and other services to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking. 

"Rape is the most under-reported crime," Hagen said. "We work very hard to work with folks who work with victims of domestic and sexual assaults," which Hagen said makes reporting more likely.

Several high-profile homicide cases in the Helena area have captured headlines in the last year and a half, but Hagen said the offenders and victims knew each other.

"In most violent crimes, folks know their victims and that's been the trend recently," Hagen said. 

Property crimes, including robbery and burglary, have risen as well and have been especially prevalent in thefts from cars.

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"In the majority of thefts, the vehicle was left unlocked," Hagen said. 

A change in the Montana legal code also sent burglary numbers through the roof. Under the new law, any free-standing building on a property is considered part of the home.

For the most part, Hagen said Helena's crimes are fairly minor. "Traffic, abandoned vehicles and dog issues, those are the main crimes," Hagen said. 

"So the question is, if those are your main concerns, then does your community feel safe?" Hagen asked.

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Crime and Health Reporter

Crime and health reporter for the Helena Independent Record.

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