South Dakota Sheriff: Guns, drugs a growing problem in Sioux Falls City saw record number of narcotics cases, crimes involving firearms in 2015

@Byline Name:By Katie Nelson and Danielle B. Ferguson

Argus Leader

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - Drug-related crime in Sioux Falls is on the rise and increasingly violent, according to a top local law enforcement official.

At a recent media briefing, Minnehaha County Sheriff Mike Milstead described a proliferation of drugs and violent criminals as a growing threat to his deputies and the public, the Argus Leader reported.

"I'm more concerned today than I've ever been in my career," Milstead later said in an interview.

Milstead made the comments a day after his department apprehended a burglary suspect who was considered dangerous. It ended peacefully, but Milstead said he fears for the lives of his officers when they interact with that type of suspect.

"It could have gone a completely different way," Milstead said.

Milstead said the community is seeing more crime involving drugs and guns, and increasingly they're combined. As drug-related robberies have become more common, drug dealers and purchasers are arming themselves for protection. In one recent case, police suspect both a buyer and seller planned to rob each other during a drug deal that ended in a stabbing last month.

"It's a culture change," Milstead said. "If their fear now is that they're going to get ripped off, they're going to arm themselves."

The Sioux Falls Police Department investigated a record 2,409 narcotics cases in 2015, up from 1,897 in the previous year and a nearly 70 percent increase from the beginning of the decade.

Meanwhile, crimes involving firearms have also increased, jumping to 152 in 2015 from 99 in 2014. The trend has continued this year, with gun crime on pace to rival last year's totals.

Sioux Falls Police Chief Matt Burns said crime numbers tend to be cyclical, but as the city grows it's experiencing a concerning rise in drug-related and violent crime.

"We're seeing more narcotics cases, but we also see desensitization toward violence," Burns said. "There's always been a certain level of violence in drug culture and drug trafficking, but it's my personal observation that ... persons engaged in that are more willing to have a gun ... and not only brandish it, but also use it."

The department has reassigned officers to specific areas of town that have seen more activity, including the Pettigrew Heights and Cathedral neighborhoods and areas south of there, Burns said.

This increase in drug and gun use is not only concerning for those involved, but also for innocent bystanders or officers who may get caught in the crossfire.

Earlier this year, a string of home shootings likely tied to narcotics nearly injured an innocent man when a stray bullet grazed his head.

"We believe that every one of those instances had a nexus to drugs," Burns said.

Milstead criticized the idea that drug offenders are "low-risk" criminals. Recent criminal justice reforms in South Dakota have sought to lock up fewer nonviolent offenders.

"The reality of it is that people who are using these drugs like methamphetamine and heroin ... are dangerous," Milstead said.

Despite the increase in drug-related crime, Milstead stressed that Sioux Falls is still a lot safer than other communities of its size.

"It's a great place to live and raise your family, but there is a dark side," he said. "The first thing you've got to do to tackle a problem like this is admit that we have one."

All Saints Neighborhood Association President Katrina Lehr-McKinney said she tries to stay abreast of crime in her neighborhood, just south of downtown.

"Over the past couple of months there have been a few things that have come up ... but nothing violent or drug-related," Lehr-McKinney said. "We're hoping people are reaching out when they see something."

Milstead said he spoke to the media Wednesday in part to encourage citizens to stay vigilant about crime in their area.

"If the community doesn't recognize those problems when we need their help, they're not going to report suspicious activity," Milstead said. "They're not going to report it because they're all going to think they live in Mayberry. Well, it isn't Mayberry anymore, and we need to be able to have citizens be willing to say, 'You know, I'm going to take a stand, I'm going to report suspicious activity, I'm going to use Crime Stoppers or call my local policeman.'"

"I guess I kind of shot from the hip today," he said, "but I needed to."

Published: Mon, Jun 06, 2016


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