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Bozeman investigators: organized crime grows alongside 'rapid' city growth

Bozeman, Billings detectives continue investigating car break-in spree
Posted at 12:47 PM, Sep 28, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-28 15:31:30-04

BOZEMAN —

The growth that's been happening in Bozeman has brought some challenges. One of them is organized crime.

Bozeman City Police are still looking into what they say might be a series of organized, strategic strikes in two places: at Orangetheory Fitness and on the other side of town at Zephyr Cycling Studio.

And there were three more strikes in Billings at other fitness centers the morning before.

Detectives and business owners say this kind of organized crime comes with more people.

“Multiple victims, multiple vehicles," says Det. Robert Vanuka, Bozeman City Police. "It just proves that Bozeman is expanding.”

From Billings to Bozeman, Vanuka says more than 20 fitness center goers found themselves victims of planned “smash and grabs.”

Mainly checkbooks, wallets, IDs and other personal information were taken from dozens of cars.

“It just seemed to be so meticulous and so fast and so organized to be, basically, within an hour, hit two separate locations," Vanuka says.

To the detective, it shows that growing pains can come in scary ways.

“We like Bozeman," Vanuka says. "I love Bozeman and that’s why I’m here. It’s small. It’s sleepy but really, in retrospect and reality, it’s not. Everyday, it’s getting bigger and bigger and bigger.”

And when it comes to crime, more people means more opportunity.

“As we increase, crime will eventually increase too, and people do feed off of that," Vanuka says.

According to detectives, as the city grows, crime grows.

It’s inevitable and many others agree: this is a growing problem of its own.

“I was born and raised here and I’ve never heard of something like this that was strategic and planned," says Breezy Cutler, who helps run a business in Bozeman.

Cutler co-owns New Wave Float Therapy in the Market, west of downtown Bozeman and in a similar area as Wednesday morning’s crimes.

“You could do your due diligence to make sure all of your safety precautions are in place but with organized crime, that’s sort of this wild card that you can’t help yourself from," Cutler says.

Detectives say the parking lots where this happened do not have surveillance cameras yet and they are canvassing nearby businesses for footage that could point towards any clues.

Cutler says the Market does have cameras and, yet, there is a bigger picture.

“Knowing our neighbors, knowing our community, I still feel safe, I feel comfortable," Cutler says. "It's just when these sort of upsetting things happen.”

Investigators are on the case, working from Yellowstone County to Gallatin County.

As for those like Cutler, they aren’t letting crime like this change them.

“I just don’t want people to feel uncomfortable patronizing businesses because of these organized crime events that are happening," Cutler says. "It’s not an indication of the Bozeman community. It’s not an indication of how these businesses are operating.”

Again, detectives are asking for your help to track down any leads in this case.

They say if you saw anything suspicious in those lots between 5 and 7 a.m. Wednesday morning -- or in Billings around that same time -- tell them immediately.