Drugs, burglaries top concerns in sheriff’s report

While the Byron Smith trial dominates the news this week, Morrison County Sheriff Michel Wetzel quietly delivered his annual report of crime statistics to the county board. The good news is that there was less crime in the county in 2013 than in 2012. The bad news is that law enforcement was still way too busy.

In 2013, 1,208 criminal incidents were reported compared to 1,375 in 2012, a 12 percent decline. The sheriff’s department had a clearance rate of 77 percent, compared to 70 percent the year before.

Complaints of assault dropped from 67 to 63 and every one of those cases was cleared. Murders dropped from six to one.

However, two disturbing statistics reveal a growing concern. The first is drugs. While marijuana complaints doubled to 42, complaints involving cocaine, crack and heroin went from a single complaint in 2012 to 15 in 2013. The county attorney’s office spent a good share of the past year prosecuting people allegedly involved in a heroin overdose death. While every illegal drug complaint was cleared by the Sheriff’s Department, including the 24 complaints involving the sale or possession of meth amphetamine (up two from the year before), it’s clear we are facing a drug problem.

A second big concern is that residential burglaries grew 27 percent. Thefts of 42 homes were reported compared to 33 in 2012. What’s frightening is that law enforcement was only able to solve 10 of them. Property crimes are the toughest to clear.

It’s much more likely that a drug bust will be solved, since it usually involves an undercover agent buying from a dealer. Too many of us don’t report illegal drug use, seeing it as a victimless crime — until it isn’t.

Law enforcement usually gets involved in investigating other crimes only after the fact, when a complaint is filed. It’s the rest of us that need to become more proactive. Someone needs to explain to our young people in ways they will take to heart that using highly addictive drugs will consume their willpower, causing them to commit crimes even against those they profess to love in order to get a chemical fix. That’s why the drugs are illegal.

As the drug scourge grows, the addicts become increasingly bold, and more homes are being invaded. Byron Smith was presumably one such victim in 2012 and in response took it upon himself to kill two intruders. Autopsy reports found that Nicholas Brady was clean while Haile Kifer may have been intoxicated on over-the-counter cough syrup and had residue from marijuana in her blood. We don’t know why they broke in, and won’t find out in this trial, which is limited to determining if Smith exceeded Minnesota law in defending his home. But regardless of what the jury decides next week, Smith perceived that he had become a crime victim in part because of a community drug problem that isn’t going away soon.

How many more victims will we have before we get serious about getting rid of drugs in Morrison County?