Pennington County is seeing a steady rise in arrests for meth, a drug that investigators say is intertwined with other crimes.
There were 893 arrests for meth possession in the county last year, up 20 percent from the previous year, according to the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office 2017 annual report released Monday.
Comparative data shows there’s been an uptick in meth arrests for three consecutive years, with 2017 registering the highest since at least 2012.
“It’s very prevalent that meth is an underlying factor” in a number of crimes within the county, said Capt. Corey Brubakken, head of investigations at the sheriff’s office.
Last year, the county saw a spike in homicides, stolen vehicles and aggravated assaults; at the same time, there was a decline in robberies and thefts.
Sheriff Kevin Thom explained the changes to the “natural ebb and flow” of crimes from year to year.
In 2016, homicides were down compared with 2015, but thefts for the same period were up.
“What you look for, with data, is trends over time, or if there’s a sudden spike one year,” he said Monday.
All seven homicides in 2017 happened in Rapid City.
Rapid City Police Department spokesman Brendyn Medina said a common factor in many of the city’s violent crimes, including killings, is substance abuse of drugs or alcohol.
Deaths in general were also on the rise in the county.
Coroner calls by the sheriff’s office, which serves as county coroner, were up about 20 percent year-on-year, from 309 to 369. The coroner investigates deaths that result from a homicide, accident or suicide, as well as natural deaths that happen outside the care of a medical professional.
Brubakken said he couldn’t identify a specific factor that led to the increase in deaths, but noted that suicides were up to around 28 incidents last year.
The number of reported sexual assaults in the county also rose from 197 to 299, attributed to changes in the reporting process.
Offenses such as sexual contact, which doesn’t constitute rape, are now included in the sexual assault category, Brubakken explained.
The sheriff also highlighted the higher number of calls for service that deputies responded to last year. There were 44,200 compared with 40,200 in 2016.
Thom said this reflected the fact there are now more sheriff’s deputies on the road, the county has a growing population of residents and tourists, and community members are engaged with local law enforcement.
The sheriff's office had a budget of $31.9 million in 2017, which represented 36 percent of the total county budget.