If you’re of a mind to dig into crime stats in Brookings County, you’re going to find numbers that mostly reflect a law-abiding population — numbers further reinforced by programs designed to keep people out of South Dakota’s prison system.
“If we look at the crimes that impact the most people across the board, what we’ve done about that is hold people accountable. We’ve sent the right message to those offenders — ‘If you continue to endanger the people in this community, you will be prosecuted and you will be held accountable’ — and I think since I’ve taken office in January of 2019, we’ve done just that,” Brookings County State’s Attorney Dan Nelson said in an interview.
“If you look at violent crime, the conviction rates have increased. We’ve sent those violent offenders to prison, removed them from our community,” he added. “If you look at DUIs, you look at drugs, you look at all these types of crimes that are, in terms of volume, committed the most here in Brookings County, we’ve been able to confront that, send the right message, hold people accountable, stand up for victims and make Brookings County one of the safest counties in South Dakota.”
The years-long effort by Nelson and his staff — two deputy state’s attorneys, three legal assistants, a victim witness coordinator and an office coordinator — is reflected in the numbers. Felony convictions in Brookings County reached a high in recent years of 224 in 2019, but dropped to 128 by 2022.
“I’m proud of that because our staff has worked very hard to do that,” Nelson said. “I’m proud of law enforcement and their efforts to help us achieve that. People in Brookings County should feel safe because Brookings County is one of the safest counties in South Dakota.”
He continued, “There’s nothing that we see in the data that is alarming, necessarily, about crime trends or the direction we’re going — the direction we’re going is that we have a safe county, and it’s my job to make sure that it stays a safe county. I think in the last four years, we’ve certainly been able to improve the safety of this county and I intend to do that going forward.”
Within the felony category were 46 convictions for drugs, such as methamphetamine, in 2022, a decline from 64 in 2021. If Class 1 misdemeanor drug convictions from 2021 and 2022 are included in the overall total, the 2022 numbers of 56 are still much lower than the 84 convictions recorded in 2021.
“One of the things that we’ve tried to do as it relates to the methamphetamine issue is a two-prong approach,” Nelson noted. “The first prong is to go after the dealers. Since I’ve been in office, we’ve sent a number of dealers to prison. We are one of the only state’s attorney’s offices to follow through on what’s called a drug-free zone violation, which carries a mandatory minimum of five years. So if you’re dealing meth within 1,000 feet of a school or park and you’re doing it in Brookings County, you’re going to get hit hard and you’re going to go to prison.”
Non-prison options figure prominently in Nelson’s playbook as well.
“The second prong is we continue to be a big supporter of our alternative courts — that’s like drug court, DUI court — because what you want is you want a lot of these individuals that suffer from substance abuse to make sure that they can get a handle on their addiction,” he said. “If you can get people help and try to cure their addiction, you’re going to dry up the demand. With the dealers, you want to crack down on the suppliers, and then with drug court you’re really trying to help individuals to try to dry up demand. That’s kind of that two-prong approach as it relates to methamphetamine.”
You can read the full article at the Brookings Register.