Several law enforcement agencies from Lafayette County met on Friday, Jan. 27 to have a listening session with Wisconsin’s Attorney General, Brad Schimmel. Schimmel, along with Rep. Todd Novak, Sen. Howard Marklein and members of the Division of Criminal Investigation, listened to those law enforcement members, service workers and village and township chairman as they discussed issues from drug abuse and mental illness to low recruitment for law enforcement throughout Lafayette County.
It had been the 15th county round table that Schimmel participated in and he mentioned that many had the same issues. He began asking how the drug issue has affected Lafayette County and the Human Services department. Shane Schumacher, Human Services Director, stated that almost every case he has worked on recently has involved drug abuse in some way.
“It has almost seemed like more of a norm,” Schumacher said, adding that the rise in drug abuse has been difficult when they do not have some services readily available.
Lafayette County Sheriff Reg Gill stated that he has spoken with Schumacher about having Human Services provide some mental health services in the jail because sometimes the officers do not feel comfortable leaving an inmate with a member of the HS staff.
“We have a minimal staff in the jail. The people working in the jail also are doing dispatch. We are limited especially when someone has to be on suicide watch every fifteen minutes. So they go back and forth between. Runs the staff thin pretty quickly,” Gill explained.
Cuba City Chief of Police Terry Terpstra added that having an inmate in emergency detention is a “logistical nightmare”. The inmate would then have to be transferred to the nearest mental institution, which is the Winnebago Mental Health Institute. Usually, two officers go on an eight hour round trip with the inmate, which does not include time spent in the hospital for pre-evaluation.
“Small department budgets can’t afford overtime. It’s a major problem when the only place to go is Winnebago,” Terpstra declared. Gill added the need for a mental health facility on this side of the state.
Gill said that he has been seeing more heroin coming into the county but would still classify the county as a meth county, with a growing problem with abusing prescription drugs.
Darlington Chief of Police Jason King mentioned that in Darlington he has not seen a lot of heroin or meth use but has seen constant violations of prescription medication laws.
“All the drug cases we have at the DA’s office are for prescription drugs. It evolves into other problems,” Chief King said.
Judge Duane Jorgenson noted that he felt Grant and Lafayette Counties were the first counties to see the invasiveness in methamphetamines. He sees the small, local municipalities being hit more and they are the least able to deal with the issues. Jorgenson has seen an uptick in mentally ill people, people using opiates and drug addictions
“Alcohol issues, domestic issues, opiate drug issues and driving while intoxicated make up about 90% of all my criminal cases. It impacts the budget, ability to parent and being unemployable. When we bring them back into the community, need to make sure they don’t fall back into the same tracks and send them to jail again. If we don’t take away the market we are going to be putting the same people in jail over and over,” Judge Jorgenson said.
Jack Larson, chairman of Lamont Township, asked if they see Lafayette County as a more susceptible county to these drugs.
Chief Terpstra mentioned that they are able to make it easier now that the law won’t allow them to gather enough ingredients to make a large quantity.
“They can do it in their vehicle now. So instead of focusing on one house, we are focusing everywhere. They can make it anywhere,” Terpstra explained.
District Attorney Jenna Gill mentioned that programs are working on getting repeat offenders to stop. The goal is working on getting a program in Lafayette County but it costs money.
Judge Jorgenson brought up that Iowa County has been doing their OWI court for the past 10 years and people that have completed that program were only 5-7% likely of reoffending.
“If you start a drug treatment court, don’t expect 90% of the people will succeed. You need high needs drug addicted offenders. In Waukesha County it costs $2,700 for having someone in the program for 12 months. You can’t have someone in the state prison for $2,700 for a month. There are start up grants to kick-start the program. Long term will have to be a county and community commitment to keep it going,” Schimmel contributed.
Larson asked if this program would have anything with behavioral or mental health therapy. He commented on when the 2013 homicide case when a Waukesha man killed three people in South Wayne.
Schimmel commented that it was hard to separate mental health and drug issues.
“I think it goes back to the prison system. Prisons are full of mentally ill people. I support things going on with recidivism, but we have to take it back further than that, and what causes people to start and we don’t have to look far. We know education and family structure causes people to commit crimes. I don’t think mental health systems are working and believe investing more in our schools,” Chief King said.
King went on to mention that kids spend most of their time in school and if we have strong schools that can provide resources and interventions and make referrals to the necessary places, that is a good prevention measure.
“Some kids only hope is an education. If they drop out, you know they will be in the backseat of my police car and then they will end up in jail and end up in prison. I agree we need to invest money in treatment programs but we could probably invest less in that if we invest more in the very first steps in the school,” King added.
“A good education creates good communities. Good communities create good people. You are always going to have some fall through the cracks. But you can’t spend money on putting people in prison with no results,” Larson stated agreeing with King.
Schimmel also addressed the issue of law enforcement recruitment commenting that another agency said they were hiring people that they wouldn’t have given an interview to five years ago.
“If we end up lowering our standards, that is a problem. We have high standards for our law enforcement officers because the responsibilities are so great,” Schimmel addressed.
He added that the Division of Law Enforcement Services has been working with technical colleges and junior high and high schools to encourage more to want to become officers. Departments have been trying to undo the damage that some have done to law enforcement reputations and having consequences in recruiting and it is hitting rural areas hard.
“There seems to be a drive in the national media to find negative cases to make cops look bad but they have to dig pretty deep because there aren’t that many,” King said.
Argyle Chief of Police Hayley Saalsaa mentioned that when asked who wanted to be a police officer, only one student out of all the junior and seniors at Argyle said they would.
“Right now they have no desire to be a police officer,” Saalsaa stated.
“Not to mention that every night you see another cop killed on the news. Firearm related deaths went up over 60% last year in the nation for cops,” Chief King added.
“It’s a tough time in rural communities to hire in any job. I think you need to stay positive and not give up. Be positive about your profession and community,” Sen. Marklein acknowledged.
Schimmel wrapped up the session by stating that all the counties so far have been having all the same issues and no one county is worse than other counties. He said that mental health and drug issues are eating up time and energy spent by service workers and all have to help find a way to stop spending so much on these issues.