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Morris Police had fewer service calls in 2012, theft and drugs remain a concern

MORRIS -- The overall crime rate for the city of Morris was down in 2012, but a slow uptick in drug-related activity and other petty crimes could increase the department's work in 2013, Morris Police Chief Jim Beauregard told the members of the Police Civil Service Commission Wednesday.

In 2012, the Morris Police Department responded to 3,734 calls for service, down from 4,199 calls in 2011. Over the last 10 years, the number of calls has ranged from a low of 2,839 in 2003 to a high of 4,317 in 2010.

One area where the department saw an increase was theft, which jumped from 89 calls in 2011 to 123 calls in 2012, which may be a concern if it constitutes a trend or indicates an upcoming increase in drug-related crime, said Beauregard.

However, there have also been decreases in burglaries, motor vehicle thefts, and criminal damage to property complaints.

Beauregard credits the decrease in burglaries – items stolen from buildings rather than individuals – to the work officers on overnight patrol who alert property owners to open doors and windows.

“We're very, very good about preventing burglaries in our town,” said Beauregard. “We're very conscious of doing patrols in our business district and burglars know that.”

In addition to these general statistics, Beauregard highlighted several trends for the department in 2012: drug activity, traffic, school safety, and immigration.

Drug activity increasing

Mid-way through 2012, western Minnesota started to see an increase in drug activity thanks to the importing of methamphetamine and heroin, as well as an increase in prescription drug abuse.

Right now, the area is being flooded with inexpensive, high-quality methamphetamine and heroin to build a market for those products, said Beauregard.

The MPD is actively investigating several cases, but it may take a long time to gather enough evidence to make arrests, he added.

To combat the problem of prescription drug abuse, the department has started to work with Stevens County and the DEA to implement a prescription drug drop-off program for unused medication.

Traffic and seat belts

In 2012, the MPD  issued 269 verbal or written warnings for traffic issues and wrote 203 traffic citations. One area of focus for the year was seat belt violations, issuing 72 seat belt citations over the year.

“Stevens County is lower than the state average and lower than the national average in safety belt usage,” said Beauregard.

Over the year, the city and police department also rearranged some of the stop signs around the community to help with traffic flow.

“We're not having any big traffic problems, we're just trying to make sure the flow of traffic is going smoothly,” said Beauregard.

School safety and juvenile crime

Overall, the city has a very low rate of juvenile crime – only 10 arrests for serious crimes, a statistic Beauregard said the department is very proud of.

“Over the last six or seven years, we've made a dramatic reduction in the number of serious juvenile crimes in our community,” said Beauregard. “That's a really super low number.”

Beauregard credits both the work done by School Resource Officer Anita Liebl as well as the general good behavior of youth in the community.

“We've got a lot of great kids in our community and good families that are really cognizant of raising good kids … but by the same token, we're trying to be real preventive with our juveniles and these numbers reflect it,” said Beauregard.

Over the last several years, the department has invested heavily into school safety measures and helping the district improve safety with plans and drills.

Immigration concerns

“Immigration is always on our radar because we have such an influx of people into our community now that we never had 10 years ago,” said Beauregard.

However, Morris has had only a “fraction” of the problems other communities have had because local employers have worked with the police on any issues that arise.

New immigrants to the community have brought both cultural and economic benefits at very little cost as far as public safety is concerned, Beauregard said.

In fact, fewer than one  percent of the arrests the MPD makes have to do with illegal immigration – “It's far below everything else I deal with everybody who lives in town,” said Beauregard.