Guns, drugs, lax paroles to blame for violent crime in Sioux Falls, officials say
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Before details were given about the city’s fourth homicide in five weeks, the mayor and top law enforcement leaders in Sioux Falls held a press conference on Monday morning to pinpoint some of the root causes behind crime trends in the area.
These officials usually hold an annual public safety briefing in February, but recent murder investigations likely led to the hour-long event.
“I have never been more concerned about the safety of men and women in our community,” Minnehaha County Sheriff Mike Milstead said.
A bevy of statistics was released about major crimes committed from January thru August each of the last three years, with varying results. (You can read the full report here >> file:///C:/Users/ksfyuser/Downloads/091622-crime%20stats%20-%20fall%202022.pdf)
Mayor Paul TenHaken opened things up with what became a common theme.
“Many of the crime issues that we see in our community, especially the last several years, have been really cyclical,” TenHaken said.
In recent homicides — and an August police-involved shooting — the suspects have been repeat offenders, and TenHaken rattled a few common denominators:
Firearms, drugs, parole laws that need to be “tweaked” were the main reasons given. TenHaken and Milstead also offered solutions such as drug treatment programs in prison and more jail space, including a new state penitentiary that might cost up to $100 million.
Officials say a growing willingness to use guns is a major contributor to violent crime in the city.
“We are a state that loves the Second Amendment, as do I,” TenHaken said. " But there are more firearms and there are more people that are willing to use them. The days of fisticuffs have given way to people willing to use their guns in altercations, and that’s just the reality. "
Asked if he was willing to support any legislation that would curtail any use of firearms — and pressed about how countries with gun control have far fewer gun-related deaths — Milstead repeated TenHaken’s line about South Dakotans clinging to the 2nd Amendment.
“These people that we’re talking about, they don’t follow the law anyway,” Milstead said. “They’re criminals. They’re committing violent acts. They’re doing it oftentimes illegally owning a firearm. I don’t think putting restrictions or further restrictions on lawful gun owners is the right path to go down.”
Instead, the mayor and county sheriff said gun safety and crime prevention could be helped by citizens who carry guns in their vehicles to lock those vehicles.
”One of the Number One things that (are) stolen out of unlocked cars are guns, and people having guns in their car,” TenHaken said. “And so, we can’t foot-stomp that enough, how important it is.”
Milstead said there is a “direct connection between a high percentage of our violent crimes to the use and distribution of illegal drugs, in particular the drugs that are poisoning our community.”
He estimated that 90 percent of fentanyl and methamphetamine in South Dakota comes from Mexican drug cartels, with drugs shipped from China to Mexico, then distributed to the U.S.
”I was offended to hear the Vice President (Kamala Harris), quite frankly, say last week, that the southwest border is secure,” Milstead said. “I chair the National Sheriff’s Association Drug Enforcement Committee. I interact with our southern border sheriffs on a regular basis. The border is not secure.”
Asked if this was a correlation to President Joe Biden’s administration’s handling of the border since the current president took over for Donald Trump, Milstead said: “Regardless of comparing one administration to the other, the security of our southwest border is one of the most important things we face today. Without comparing, the fact that the border wall is not under construction, the fact that people are coming across that border at an unprecedented level and smuggling drugs into America has made every sheriff in America a border sheriff.”
Milstead said drug cartels are charging between $8000 to $12,000 to smuggle individuals across the border.
“Less than half of these individuals are coming across the border from Mexico,” Milstead said. “They’re from 160 different countries. Some are from Russia, some are from Afghanistan. If you want to enter the United States illegally, all you have to do is fly to Mexico City — they don’t require a visa — pay a drug cartel between eight and twelve thousand dollars, and you’re going to enter the United States.
A lot of violent criminals in the area are former inmates who are drug addicts, Milstead said, adding there’s a way to curtail their drug addiction and involvement in drug retail and crime while they are imprisoned.
”I’m not king, but if I was king, I would find a centralized, in-custody, in-patient treatment center for individuals in prison or jail,” Milstead said.
Parole system and need for more jail space
Both the mayor and the sheriff also pointed out how most of the recent violent criminals are repeat offenders.
They both said SB 70, a 2013 law into law by former Gov. Dennis Daugaard, needs tweaking.
Known as the South Dakota Public Safety Improvement Act, it was meant to use intensive probation and parole, along with expanded special courts that treat drug and alcohol offenders, in an effort to divert offenders from prison and prevent them from committing future crimes. With this new reform, those who were doing time for drug and alcohol offenses have a chance to get out and be on parole, and a part of a rehab program. It was intended to reduce the incarceration rate, and to hold off building new prisons, therefore save the state millions of dollars.
“We do need to revisit parole laws,” Milstead said on Monday.
Milstead said many people released into the Sioux Falls area did not commit the crimes here, but instead in smaller communities where parole services are not available. In other states, he said, prisoners are released to the county where they committed the crime.
Texas has done away with a parole system, Milstead pointed out, and convicted criminals in that state must serve 85 percent of their sentence.
The sheriff did not say if he is a proponent of this concept in South Dakota, but did express his opposition to any efforts to keep jail numbers down.
That’s not his job, Milstead said, citing the state statute about the role of county sheriffs.
“My duties (are) preservation of peace and the protection of life and property,” Milstead said. ““My goal is to keep as many people in jail as we need to, to keep our communities safe. That’s my goal. If we can safely reduce jail numbers, I’m okay with that. I’m all for looking at options to safely reduce jail numbers. But I am not a supporter of judging justice reform by counting how many people are in jail today or tomorrow.”
Both Milstead and TenHaken believe a new state penitentiary that might cost $65 million to $100 million dollars is necessary to help public safety.
”Jails are a part of safe communities,” TenHaken said. “I wish we didn’t need them. I wish we didn’t need a new prison up the hill. But we do, and so we have to support our legislators and our state leaders who are going to push for that.”
A “holistic effort” to curtail crime
Police Chief Jon Thum — as he has several times before in press conferences about violent crimes in Sioux Falls since taking over the department about 14 months ago — called on everyday people in the community to help get ahead of these issues by being mentors to young people.
”That’s something we can all agree on and all participate in, but if we’re only talking after the trigger is pulled, it’s a little too late,” Thum said. “It’s a little too late for everybody involved, especially the victim. Let’s not lose sight of that, too, but also the suspects and the people getting involved in these violent crimes.”
The mayor, the police chief, and the sheriff all said they’re also collaborating with officials in Rapid City and Pennington County. A major bulk of drug seizures and violent crimes in South Dakota reside in its two biggest metropolitan areas, which make up almost half of the state’s population.
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