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Drug arrests hit 10-year high in SD

More drugs. More arrests. More officers.

Drug arrests in South Dakota rose to 7,671 in 2016, the highest total in 10 years of data, according to state Attorney General Marty Jackley's annual crime report.

According to the report, which was released on Monday, total arrests in the state also rose slightly for a sixth straight year, while violent crimes like murder, forcible rape and sex offenses declined.

Last year, South Dakota law enforcement officers made 42,200 arrests, compared to 40,069 in 2015. The increased was marked by the sharp bump in drug arrests, which grew to 7,671 from 6,818 in 2015.

"I think people were glad to see that murders and sex abuse is significantly down, and I think people recognize that the numbers on the drug side were going to be up, and that's what's kind of been driving our numbers over the last several years," Jackley said.

Mitchell police made 1,162 arrests in 2016, including 182 arrests for drug and narcotic violations and another 14 arrests for drug equipment violations, according to the report.

Mitchell Chief of Public Safety Lyndon Overweg said methamphetamine is of particular concern for his department because drug use can lead to other crimes.

"Some of them, when they're on these drugs, they're very dangerous people. There's no doubt about it. But when they're off of it, they're usually decent people," Overweg said.

Overweg said there was a surge in meth use in the 1980s and 1990s, but it then temporarily subsided. Since then, he said law enforcement has largely snuffed out meth labs in the state, though drugs continue to pour into South Dakota from the south, and if officers are able to cut off the drug supply, Overweg worries the labs will return.

"I still believe a big part of this is probably coming from south of our border, but once that gets more fortified and if we can put a stop to it, unfortunately I think what you're going to see is more meth labs again," Overweg said.

Jackley echoed the point, but he remained optimistic that drug use could still fall with the use of treatment programs and the cooperation of federal authorities in South Dakota, especially where they play the primary enforcement role on the state's nine reservations.

The number of certified law enforcement officers increased last year, climbing from 1,816 to an all-time high of 1,984, which Jackley said also contributed to the increase in arrests.

"Local, county and state agencies in our state have added over 300 more certified officers since 2007, which has also resulted in more arrests to keep our neighborhoods and cities safe," Jackley said.

Staci Ackerman, executive director of the South Dakota Sheriff's Association, said she knew of a few sheriff's offices that were able to hire additional staff members in 2016, which may have been possible thanks to the Legislature's redistribution of alcohol taxes to county and city law enforcement.

Jackley praised a move by the Legislature this session to create a drug task force, which will add five to six state officers later this year.

Mitchell, too, could soon have more officers. Overweg has considered requesting funds for one or two new officers, but no moves will be made until budget discussions begin around June.

But no matter how many officers are in town, Overweg said the Mitchell Police Division will stay aggressive against drug use in the community.