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Meth use now has attention of law enforcement and governor's aides

PIERRE--State government plans to spend up to $100,000 for the design of videos and flyers against methamphetamines, as part of a broadening response to the drugs' fierce dangers, the governor's legal counsel said Wednesday.

PIERRE-State government plans to spend up to $100,000 for the design of videos and flyers against methamphetamines, as part of a broadening response to the drugs' fierce dangers, the governor's legal counsel said Wednesday.

Jim Seward said there would be conversations with state Attorney General Marty Jackley, and with state's attorneys in many counties during the coming months, to exchange thoughts about combating the spreading threat of methamphetamine abuse.

The state Department of Social Services would manage the distribution of the videos and flyers, with plans to have the materials in high schools when classes start this fall.

One video would be shown in high schools. The other video would target community members who are age 19 and older. The flyers would be distributed to post in schools and in community locations.

Seward made his comments at several points during the meeting of the oversight council for the 2013 public-safety improvement act.

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Known as SB 70, the legislation's purpose was to slow growth of South Dakota's prison populations by expanding use of community services for non-violent offenders.

Statistics presented Wednesday show the prison populations as of March 31 were larger than before the Legislature passed the law and any point since then. There were 3,238 men and 448 women.

The March total of 3,686 inmates was below the estimated 3,988 expected without the 2013 reforms.

The data presented at the meeting didn't clearly show whether methamphetamine-related convictions are a reason for the higher numbers of inmates.

However, the percentage of male inmates considered to be violent offenders was 49 percent as of Dec. 31, 2015, the highest since at least 2010.

The percentage of female inmates considered to be violent offenders was 18 percent, falling in the 16 to 20 percent range that's been consistent since 2010.

Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom told the oversight council that police chiefs and sheriffs perceive methamphetamine as "out of control" in much of South Dakota, with a connection to violent crime. He said three of the four most-recent officer-involved shootings had "a nexus" with methamphetamine use.

"It's gone off the charts," Thom said. He added, "It seems there is a consistent upward trend."

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Seward said the cases assigned to the Pennington County public defender's office climbed during the past four years by 68 percent, 47 percent, 22 percent and 14 percent. He described those statistics as a reduction in the percentage of growth.

Thom replied there's been "a significant increase in arrests" each year for methamphetamine use in Pennington County.

Seward said Gov. Dennis Daugaard called for renewal of the meth awareness campaign and the Department of Social Services is starting on it later this year.

Sen. Craig Tieszen, R-Rapid City, said there is "a persistent belief" by some sheriffs and some prosecutors that jails are seeing more prisoners as a result of SB 70.

"We've asked the sheriffs to prove it up," said Tieszen, a former police chief of Rapid City.

"It's important for this group that we know what the answer really is and not that they just can't prove it," Tieszen continued.

Thom said the stakeholders group of police chiefs and sheriffs, with whom he serves as the liaison, identified the lack of data as a weakness.

"Yes there's a gap in data," Thom said.

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He said Pennington County law enforcement departments have been "grinding" through the data.

"Hopefully, by your next meeting, we can have some progress toward that," Thom said.

Tieszen described meth as "a tremendous epidemic."

"I've seen the numbers. It's statewide." Tieszen said. He called for the oversight panel to be "watching carefully" and asked if sheriffs would monitor data.

"Anecdotally, there might be some information out there like that," Thoms said.

Thoms talked about fighting methamphetamine as a three-legged stool of education, enforcement and treatment.

"For some reason, one of the legs has fallen off, and I don't know which one it is," he said.

Thom said "a wide variety of factors" is contributing to the availability of meth in South Dakota. He said enforcement against prescription abuse and bath salts might have pushed people toward meth.

He also offered that "the porous border" allows meth to flow up to South Dakota.

Tieszen asked the oversight panel to "continue to be really watchful" to see if anything is contributing to the direction of crime increasing.

Rep. Karen Soli, D-Sioux Falls, thanked Thom for testifying. "It's good to know what's going on," Soli told him.

Thom said there is a perception people are re-offending while they are on probation or parole.

Sen. Jim Bradford, D-Pine Ridge, said he tried, but wasn't successful, during the legislative session to get information about the effects of SB 70 on counties in his district.

Thom acknowledged that police chiefs and sheriffs need to find ways to better collect and analyze data.

Bradford said meth is "a cheap drug" to get into the business of dealing.

"It seems like the word on the rez is, anybody can make it and anybody can do it," Bradford said.

Related Topics: CRIME
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