Pennington County Sheriff’s Office reports lower drug possession arrests in 2020, could that continue into 2021? Original

PENNINGTON COUNTY, S.D. (KELO)– Felony drug arrests trends continue to decrease in Pennington County, according to the latest report.

Helene Duhamel, Public Information Officer for the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office said things were going up and they were arresting at record numbers, but then COVID-19 happened in 2020, and the number of arrests scaled back.

Arrests to date in 2021 are at 261, down from 372 in 2020 to date.

“We look at 2020 as an anomaly,” Duhamel said. “Now, we are still down in 2021, so the question is, ‘is it possible, you know, that we are seeing a trend?’ and that certainly would be our hope, but it is probably to early to know.”

Graphic courtesy of the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office

Every week, the Pennington County Sheriff’s office tries to release felony drug arrest numbers, Duhamel said. More than anything, they want to raise awareness of the problem, especially in western South Dakota, which is mainly methamphetamine.

“It’s a problem, and it’s fully most of our violence in western South Dakota,” Duhamel said.

Duhamel said when they think of drugs, they relate it to a three-legged stool. They are arresting in near record numbers, but they need to have better treatment options and prevention, she said, and she thinks they are making progress in all of those areas.

The pandemic did have an effect on the decrease in drug arrests, Duhamel said. Although she said it is hard to know exactly why this is the case, she said once the pandemic began, they started being less proactive, as they were trying to limit their interaction with the public, because they didn’t know exactly what was going on.

“Certainly, we were going out to any calls for service, anyone calling for help, but we weren’t as proactive in interacting with the public, for a period of months, until we really understood the impact of COVID and how contagious the disease and until people got their vaccines and such,” Duhamel said.

She said it is too early to say if there were other factors besides the pandemic that caused this decrease. 2020 was an anomaly in almost every way in their annual report, so Duhamel said, so it is hard to say that drugs would be any different that other calls for service.

Pennington County Sheriff’s Office reported lower drug possession arrests in 2020 compare to 2019, according to their annual report.

According to the 2019 report, “meth and heroin usage are continuing to increase in Pennington County from previous years.” However, the 2020 report saw a decrease of 17%.

Graphic courtesy of the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office

Duhamel said that methamphetamine has increased over the last decade, while marijuana has decreased.

In 2020, the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office reported 1,197 methamphetamine possession arrests, a decrease from 2019 with 1,208 methamphetamine possession arrests.

Methamphetamine made up 73% of drug possession arrests in 2020, which is higher than 2019, when it made up 70% of drug possession arrests.

2020 drug possession arrests (fentanyl is added in other drugs)

There were 94 pharmaceuticals (6%) , 93 marijuana (6%), 89 heroin (5%), 35 cocaine/crack (2%), 6 fentanyl and 137 other drug (8%) possession arrests in 2020, compared to 168 marijuana (10%), 107 pharmaceuticals (6%), 5 fentanyl, 54 cocaine/crack (3%), 90 heroin (5%) and 110 other drug (6%) possession arrests in 2019.

2019 drug possession arrests (fentanyl is added in other drugs)

In 2020, the Unified Narcotics Enforcement Team (UNET) seized 18,415 grams of meth and 170 grams of heroin, according to the report.

There were 255 search warrants executed by the UNET in 2020 and 118 in 2019.

In 2020, the UNET seized $735,319 worth of currency and property, compared to $326,505 in 2019. There were 60 firearms seized in 2020 and 50 in 2019.

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