The Glasgow Courier - Serving Proudly As The Voice Of Valley County Since 1913

By A.J. Etherington
The Courier 

A Decade of Crime Stats in Montana


December 11, 2019

A Decade of Crime Stats in Montana



Crime statistics have become a tool in the race for Montana Attorney General over the last few months with statistics being thrown around to prove their points. We were left wondering what crime in Montana was actually doing over the last ten years. So, the Courier requested the Montana Board of Crime Control’s data on total crime over the last decade. They provided that data with a few caveats and we analyze it in the coming paragraphs.

Crime data in the Big Sky State is a touchy subject. For one, the crime numbers and population in Montana are relatively low, percentages can swing wildly leading to large ratio increases in crime despite there being low actual increases in reports. Second, crime data is not a straight forward statistic.

The Montana Board of Crime Control cautioned that data reporting has improved dramatically over the last decade. Particularly in 2011 many of the state’s law enforcement agencies switched to electronic ticketing software which automatically reports the citation to the Department of Justice and the MBCC. As a result crimes that used to go under reported are now almost always counted by an automated system. Which makes the numbers slightly skewed since facilitated reporting would have almost certainly led to an artificial jump in reports.

The third caution about crime data is that it only counts reported crimes not actual convictions. A case in point, according to the MBCC data Valley County saw one homicide in 2018, and in fact a man was charged with homicide, but the charge was later dismissed. Regardless of the dismissal, the homicide report remains on the crime stats along with any other erroneous reports made in the last decade.

What that means is the data is more of an impression of crime occurring across Montana and not a factual representation or empirical accounting of actual crimes that occur. So numbers could be high, but it works the other way as well. Crime may be higher in some areas than the data suggests, but the victims or witnesses may not always report the crimes to law enforcement causing an under-represented data set for other criminal activity. Notwithstanding we broke down the data as accurately as it is represented in the numbers provided by the state to show that crime in Montana is increasing but not necessarily at an alarming rate and not evenly across the spectrum of crime.

We learned that since 2008 violent crime had been relatively stable, between 2,388 to 2,608 reports of either aggravated assault, homicide, rape or robbery, until the end of 2014. In 2015 violent crime jumped up to 2,964 and in 2016 it broke the 3,000 mark jumping to 3,156. It peaked in 2017 at 3,284 and in 2018 dropped by four reports to 3,280.

In other words between 2008 and 2014 crime increased by just over 2 percent. But it jumped from 2014 to 2015 by nearly 20 percent. Then again it jumped from 2015 to 2018 by just over 10 percent. From violent crimes low in 2010 to its high in 2017 the percentage of change is 37.5 percent. The actual net difference between the two years is only 896 violent crime reports in a state of roughly 1.062 million people.

Fact one: Homicides have stayed the same. Reported homicide numbers in 2008 across Montana were 32. Homicide numbers in 2018 across Montana were 32.

Fact two: Rape has increased by 142 incidents from 2008 to 2018 which is just under 38.5 percent. Rapes in the last decade were lowest in 2008 but highest in 2017 when they peaked at 601 reports of rape – which includes all definitions of sexual intercourse without consent.

Fact three: Robbery increased by a total of 40 incidents from 2008 to 2018, but saw wide swings across the decade. The low year for robbery was 2011 with 169 incidents. The high year once again was 2017 with 255 incidents of robbery. Between 2008 and 2015 reported robberies hovered around the 200 mark and then sharply increased in 2016 to 249 incidents. They stayed increased in 2017 when they were at 255 and in 2018 reported robberies were 241.

Fact four: Aggravated assault increased by 675 from 2008 to 2018 a total deviation of 37 percent. The aggravated assault low was in 2014 with 1775 assaults and the high was in 2018 with 2496 reported assaults. The difference between the low and high years for aggravated assault is just over 40.6 percent making it the most increased violent crime in Montana.

Fact five: In 2018 reported violent crime affected only three-tenths of one percent (.003 percent) of the state of Montana – assuming each reported violent crime that year affected a separate victim each time.

Fact Six: In Valley County reported violent crime is extremely rare. In 2008, there were 9 violent crime reports. Eight were assaults and one was rape. In 2018, violent crime reports totaled 20 incidents. Of those, 10 were assaults, one was a reported homicide (that was later dismissed), one was a robbery and the remaining eight were sexual assaults. In fact, rape hit a high point in 2018 rising steadily over the last decade from a low of zero in 2009.

Property crimes in Montana saw similar increases as violent crimes. Between 2008 and 2014 property crimes stayed in the 25,000-incidents-a-year range, but in 2015 they jumped relatively slightly into the 27,000 range and up to a peak of 28,700 in 2016. The total net increase between the low year of 23,728 in 2011 to the high year of 28,700 was about 21 percent net increase. The largest contributor to property crimes – which consist of burglary, auto theft, theft from a motor vehicle and larceny – is larceny. Larceny is defined as pick pocketing, purse snatching, shoplifting, theft from a building and theft from vending machines or devices.

Burglary actually decreased between 2008 and 2018 by about 180 incidents, but it saw wide swings throughout the decade going between 3,072 incidents in 2011 and 3,740 in 2016 to fall to the low in 2018 at 3,062 reported burglaries. Auto thefts also reached a high in 2018 falling from 1,553 in 2008 to a low of 1,304 in 2011 and climbing steadily since to the current 2018 high of 2,692. Theft from a motor vehicle stayed steady from 2008 to 2018 decreasing by 27 incidents between the two years. Theft from a motor vehicle reached a peak of 6,495 incidents in 2010 making it an exception to the 2015/2016 jump in crime rates.

In 2008 property crime was the most common type of crime reported in Valley County. Back then there were 83 reported property crimes compared to 24 drug or paraphernalia related reports and nine violent crime reports. In 2018 drugs were the most reported crime in Valley County, although not by much. In 2018 there were 72 reports of property crimes and 82 reports of drug or paraphernalia crimes. Which results in a slight decrease of 11 property crimes but a sharp increase in drug related crimes.

In fact since 2008 drug related offenses have risen by nearly two-and-a-half times or 242 percent. In 2008, 14 of the 17 drug offenses were classified as marijuana, one was classified as other and the remaining two were unclassified. In 2018, 22 violations were classified as marijuana, two as heroin or opiates, seven as other drugs and 12 as methamphetamines.

The high year for drug related crimes in Valley County was 2015. In that year, there were 57 reported narcotics violations and 39 reported paraphernalia related reports. Of those 30 were marijuana, one was cocaine, none were for heroin or related opiates, 14 were for methamphetamines and 12 were labeled “other drugs”. In short there were as many meth-related reports in 2015 as there were marijuana-related reports in 2008.

Valley County, however, is doing better than the rest of Montana in relation to drug-related crimes. In 2008 there were 4,610 (that was also the low point of the decade) drug and paraphernalia-related reports compared to 9,217 in 2018. Those reports reached a peak in 2017 at 9,416 reports. Since 2008 drug crimes have only decreased twice. Once was in 2011 which saw only 5,044 reports down from 5,161 in 2010 and in 2018 which saw a decrease in reports from 9,416 in 2017 to 9,217 in 2018 – a fall of 199 reports.

The main contributor to the rise in drug-related reports is methamphetamines. Over the decade marijuana saw a rise in reports from 1,614 to 2,295 a jump of 681 or 42 percent. Meth on the other hand saw a jump from 176 to 1,789 reports or a jump of 1,613 or 916.4 percent. That means meth as a problem statewide increased by nearly a thousand percent over the last decade. Heroin was a separate contributor though not at as high of numbers as meth. Heroin and opiates increased from 39 reports in 2008 to 264 in 2018 an jump of only 225 total reports but an increase of 577 percent.

Despite the sharp increases in drug-related reports these crime rates when compared to the overall population remain low. Even at a high of 9,416, drug-related reports affected less than one percent of Montanans or, to be more precise, .0088 percent of the total population.

(To reiterate, these numbers only apply to actual crime reports whether reported to law enforcement or investigated by law enforcement, so actual drug use could be higher but goes unreported.)

There are various speculations for why crime rates are increasing in Montana and none of them are certainties. One contributor could be as simple as population growth. From 2008 to 2018 the population of Montana increased by 94,283 people or an increase of just under 10 percent. The total crime rate – for the crimes discussed above – in Montana in 2008 then was 3.4 percent based on that years population. In 2018 the total crime rate was 3.7 percent – a total increase of .3 percent, which puts the earlier increases into a more reasoned perspective.


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