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West River law enforcement concerned with increased public safety cost

PC law enforcement.jpg
Lee Strubinger
Left to right: Sheriff Brian Mueller, Chief Don Hendrick, Mayor Steve Allender, Interim States Attorney Lara Roetzel.

West River law enforcement officials are stressing what lacks in the criminal justice system.

They’re making pleas to state lawmakers about increased costs to public safety ahead of a session already defined by cutting taxes.

Top officials with the Rapid City Police Department, Pennington County Sheriff’s Department and State’s Attorney’s Office said they’re seeing an increase in violence and meth on the streets.

The most recent data from the Attorney General's office shows crime slightly decreased over the last five years. That data only goes through 2021.

Despite this, West River officials said the criminal justice system is overwhelmed. There’s a need for more jail and prison beds, treatment for drug addiction and more parole officers.

Rapid City Mayor Steve Allender, who spent nearly three decades working for the RCPD, said public safety in South Dakota is a one-billion-dollar problem.

“And it will be more expensive in the future,” Allender added.

Gov. Kristi Noem said the state is seeing permanent annual surplus of $300 million.

She and some state lawmakers are eager to cut some form of taxes at the state level. Competing interests include cutting property taxes and the state sales tax on food, which would be about $100 million.

Allender said now is not the time to cut the state budget by that much.

“That will put pressure on cities to cut their sales tax as well on groceries. In Rapid City, that means about $12 million. That means everything we’ve been talking about today is unattainable, period. We think this is a time to continue the cost, benefit analysis and to figure out what the cost of public safety is worth.”

Allender said one long-term investment to reduce the strain on public safety is pre-school education.

Noem is recommending the state take a multi-year approach to fund building a new state penitentiary. This year, she wants to use $52 million to purchase land and conduct an engineering study.

A recent prison study shows the state corrections system needs over half-a-billion dollars’ worth of upgrades.

Lawmakers gavel in on Tuesday for the start of annually scheduled legislative session.

Lee Strubinger is SDPB’s Rapid City-based news and political reporter. A former reporter for Fort Lupton Press (CO) and Colorado Public Radio, Lee holds a master’s in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.
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