SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) – Recently, law enforcement officials within South Dakota have said violent crimes are continually being committed by repeat offenders who have lengthy criminal records or are out on parole.
This issue is something the Sioux Falls Police Department is dedicated to combatting through a new unit of detectives.
Making the decision to report a violent crime that happened to you isn’t always easy.
“Many victims, their motivation for following through on prosecuting or reporting a crime is to prevent this from happening to someone else,” Michelle Trent, executive director of the Compass Center, said.
Seeing criminals continue to re-offend can take away hope from victims.
“When we see offenders continually re-offend, that impact, that victim, is like, ‘man, I did all this, I sacrificed so much of my life and told my story and did all of the really terrible things that happened when it comes to court related to crimes and then to have them do something else or plea down to a lesser charge and then go out and re-offend.’ So it’s a really difficult thing for their healing but also a really difficult thing for them to feel like they weren’t able to protect somebody else,” Trent said.
And if the court system seems to fail one victim, the next might not want to report at all.
“There’s a lot of barriers that exist just in the way that structures are built and communities are built,” Trent said. “But then when you watch and see what happens in another case and you go, ‘well that person has had multiple violent charges or multiple convictions, why would mine be any different.’ Why would I go through all of this if it’s just going to end up like that.”
A bill that made it through this year’s legislature hopes to address the issue of reoffenders by limiting parole for violent offenders — making them serve all or at least 85% of their prison sentences once convicted.
“I certainly think we would love to see there be more convictions,” Trent said. “You know, when you’re talking about violent crimes like domestic violence, sexual assault, those are really had crimes to prosecute. And we know that the prosecutors office is so busy and so extra support from the county and the city and all of those entities to support being able to prosecute people and being able to hold them accountable I think is the first step.”
But before a suspected criminal can even get to court, they must to be taken off the streets — something a new unit within the Sioux Falls Police Department is dedicated to doing.
The new violent crime unit was formed at the end of January as a merger between the narcotics crime unit and the street crimes unit.
“There is a huge overlap of people who are involved in the drug world and people who are committing violent crimes and that’s the violent crime unit — they’re really focusing on people who are using guns, doing robberies, just a lot of negative crime that’s impacting people in their neighborhood,” Capt. Michael Colwill with the Sioux Falls Police Department said.
Colwill says in less than two months, the unit – made up of eight detectives and one sergeant – has been able to pull numerous guns off the street and make several arrests.
“They have the opportunity to focus specifically on violent crime where a lot of other detectives have to be more well-rounded in what it is they’re doing,” Colwill said. “These guys are able to just go out there and identify violent parolees, people who have been involved in robberies, aggravated assaults and focus all of their energy into getting them in custody.”
Police are only one step in fixing the issue of re-offenders, though. Which is why Colwill believes Senate Bill 146 will be beneficial.
“I think that the new SB 146 will be a great start to try to allow us all to partner together — us, the prosecutors, the court system, parole,” Colwill said. “We need all to all work together and we need to all be victim focused to make sure that public safety is in the forefront of everything we’re doing.”
Trent wants to remind victims that even when it may not seem like it, victims have the power.
“It’s always important for victims to remember that they get to choose what’s best for them. So sometimes reporting is not what is best for them and that’s okay. That is still perfectly fine and that there are services that will assist in those pieces,” Trent said.
And it is never their fault.
“It’s always the responsibility back on that perpetrator,” Trent said. “I hope, as a community, we can focus on how do we hold them accountable instead of focusing on victims and what victims could’ve done or should’ve done. We know that that’s not actually what solves these issues.”
Governor Kristi Noem signed Senate Bill 146 into law earlier this week.