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MERCER: Official reports on crime in SD better with Highway Patrol stats

Bob Mercer

PIERRE -- The other day I took time to start looking through the 2012 Crime in South Dakota report that was issued earlier this month by the state attorney general's office.

There is some fascinating information -- and something very odd.

For the first time, the South Dakota Highway Patrol contributed statistics.

The annual reports always came with cautions, such as reporting is voluntary, and crime in Indian country isn't included because that's a federal matter.

But it was the disclosure in the latest report, regarding agencies that reported 2012 statistics after not participating in 2011, that caught my attention.

The good news is the Daugaard administration now has the Highway Patrol participating. Data were reported for part of 2012.

According to the governor's spokesman, Tony Venhuizen, personnel changes in 2011 led to the change. Public Safety Secretary Trevor Jones and Col. Craig Price, superintendent of the Highway Patrol, made the decision.

Venhuizen said a new records management system was installed in 2012. It allows the Highway Patrol to file overall crime data to the national crime system without reporting the same information twice.

"They believe Highway Patrol had not previously participated because of the need to double-enter the data," Venhuizen said.

This isn't a small matter. The numbers are very big, as shown by various performance indicators for the Highway Patrol each year in governors' budget proposals.

Those budget documents show that more than 28,000 DWI arrests were made by troopers in the past decade.

Those weren't part of the annual Crime in South Dakota reports, however.

Likewise, troopers made arrests for about 3,900 drug felonies and about 23,000 drug misdemeanors. Those weren't included in the Crime in South Dakota reports either.

Other Highway Patrol arrests also weren't recognized.

There wasn't much Attorney General Marty Jackley or predecessor Larry Long could have done to get the Highway Patrol to participate, other than offering money and personnel.

Maybe there was a disclaimer about the Highway Patrol omitting itself in previous years' crime reports. If so, I missed it.

It's important to recognize how incomplete the annual crime reports were without the SDHP data.

In 2011, for example, there were 5,775 drunken driving arrests in South Dakota, according to the crime report. The number didn't reflect the 2,342 DWI arrests the Highway Patrol made.

During the past decade, drunken driving arrests shown in the crime reports ranged from 5,188 in 2002 to 5,775 in 2011. The peak was 6,811 in 2008.

Highway Patrol DWI arrests ranged from 2,383 in 2002 to 2,342 in 2011. The HP's high was 3,608 in 2006.

Long-term numbers for drug arrests are more complicated. The annual crime reports used two categories, possession and sale/manufacturing, through 2007.

For 2008 and after, different categories -- drug violations and drug equipment -- were used.

Arrest numbers jumped after that change. The Highway Patrol meanwhile uses felonies and misdemeanors.

The Crime in South Dakota reports are still valuable. With the Highway Patrol now participating, they will be much more so.