Police chief, sheriff say violent crime spike has many reasons

Police chief, sheriff say police shooting spike has many reasons
Published: Aug. 10, 2022 at 8:47 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Sioux Falls Police Chief Jon Thum did not mince words when describing the city’s fifth shooting involving an officer in less than five months, an unprecedented surge.

”These people are trying to kill our officers,” Thum said, “and that is something we are obviously very concerned about.”

Thum made a rare appearance at the city’s daily police briefing on Wednesday and partnered with Minnehaha County Sheriff Mike Milstead to answer over 25 minutes of questions from reporters about a Tuesday incident in which a man pulled a gun and shot at an officer, who immediately fired back and killed him.

Three others were in the car that police had pulled over in front of Burger King on West 12th and Williams Street. Two were detained, while one fled away in the vehicle. Over 25 hours later on Wednesday evening, police stopped and arrested, without incident, the suspect — 29-year-old Sioux Falls resident Tanner Turkey, who was pulled over in a stolen vehicle and was wanted in connection with a recent Aggravated Assault, a police release said.

Tuesday’s incident is now under review from the Department of Criminal Investigation. Here are few the details Sioux Falls Police gave on Wednesday afternoon > https://www.dakotanewsnow.com/2022/08/10/dci-investigating-fatal-officer-involved-shooting-sioux-falls/

It was the seventh police shooting in the city since last October, and four of those cases resulted in the subject’s death. No officers were struck by a bullet or injured, but that doesn’t mean Thum and Milstead aren’t alarmed about the skyrocketing trend of violent crimes — both overall and those involving police.

“We came very close to losing an officer yesterday, Milstead said. “Possibly more than one.

”I believe that this is still one of the safest places in America, but we have violent crime in our community that we haven’t seen at this level.”

Neither law enforcement leader would claim the violent crime spike to be a Sioux Falls-specific problem. Thum referred to shots that were exchanged with South Dakota Highway Patrol officers on I-29 near Madison a couple weeks ago.

“We’re not doing anything differently than we’ve always done,” Thum said. “It is our job to go out and do good, quality police work. It’s not just a Sioux Falls Police Department or Minnehaha County Sheriff’s Office issue.”

Milstead cited FBI statistics of violent crime on the rise all over the country the last 18 months, since roughly the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.

According to the FBI, 2021 was the deadliest year for American law enforcement in two decades, when 71 officers lost their lives on September 9, 2001, in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York City.

Of the 129 officers killed in the line of duty last year, 73 were related to felonious acts, which was 27 more than the total in 2020, an increase of 37 percent.

It mirrors the skyrocketing cases of overall violent crime the last two-plus years in America. There were 44 percent more murders in 2021 than in 2019.

”The more violent crime we respond to, the higher the probability that officers could be involved,” Milstead said.

Asked to give reasons, and also possible solutions, Thum said “law enforcement is just one piece of that equation.”

“Usually, law enforcement is the front door, and there’s a lot of other pieces that take place,” Thum said. “Law enforcement is the one on the streets that’s dealing with it. Law enforcement (officers) are the ones that are getting shot at, at a rate higher than ever before, and we’re up to that challenge.”

In fact, Thum said officers were downright prepared for it, repeating a “they did what they’ve been trained to do” mantra a couple of times.

Tuesday’s shooting started as an traffic stop on a vehicle that the Sioux Falls area drug task force had identified to possibly have narcotics inside. Authorities believed a person in the vehicle was wanted for a parole violation.

As it turned out, Turkey, the driver that fled the scene, was wanted in connection with a recent Aggravated Assault.

“We have to look at what we’re doing, but, at the same time, in every one of these situations,” Thum said, “we’re responding to situations, and the people we’re responding to have a history within the judicial system. They’re not strangers to us.”

Milstead also remarked how many violent criminals are “familiar faces,” and wondered if both the South Dakota and United States judicial systems — which he said started to undergo some reform a decade ago — need another probe into how they handled violent felons.

“How’s presumptive parole working, “Milstead said. “Can we feel comforted if our penitentiary and jail numbers go down, and public safety is compromised? Probably not.”

One suggestion to curtail the violence, both on citizens and on officers, is more staffing in the judiciary, Milstead said.

”Do they have enough parole officers to keep track of over 3,000 people on parole,” Milstead said. “Do we have enough probation officers to keep track of the individuals that they have on probation? Are there people that are being released on parole that maybe should continue to be in prison?”

But there are ways all people — or at least citizens who own firearms — can help curtail violence involving guns, Milstead said, pointing out an uptick in local criminal cases involving stolen guns.

“We need to get better in our own community at things like locking your car if you’ve got a gun in it,” Milstead said. “Or bring your gun inside your house when you don’t have it in your car.”

The sheriff said there is also a rising number of juveniles in possession of firearms — “and they aren’t afraid to use them” — and questioned if the current consequences for them are enough to deter other young people from owning and using guns.

Thum said violent crime might be prevented if more everyday adults in the community became mentors to troubled youth, something he has publicly mentioned multiple times since taking over his position just over a year ago.

While there are some “great initiatives” and some mentoring programs already in place in Sioux Falls, Thum said, more people need to ask themselves this question:

”'OK, how can I be involved in this process,’” Thum said. “‘I may work at a bank. I’m not involved in the criminal justice system. I’m not here. I’m not in the schools. I’m not doing anything. Am I taking some time out of my day, my week to mentor and impact the lives of youth?’”

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