By Jean Ruzicka
Hubbard County Sheriff Cory Aukes arrived at this week’s county board meeting armed with documentation regarding the need for a second investigator on staff.
“All too often, officers take information, but then must head off to another call and don’t have the time to follow up,” he told commissioners. “And we’re talking felonies.”
“We want to be able to solve more of these felony crimes,” he said. “If more people are sent to jail, so be it,” he said of cost.
A single investigator, Chad Olson, is currently on staff. But because of time constraints, property crimes have been neglected. “Another investigator would serve us tremendously,” Aukes said.
Commissioner Kathy Grell questioned the underlying causes of burglary.
Some, Aukes replied, are drug related, the need for money. Sometimes it’s teenagers, looking for booze.
Commissioner Cal Johannsen asked about time spent on social issues, such as child abuse.
Aukes presented Hubbard County statistics showing reported crime grew by 38 percent from 2001 to 2008. During the same interval, violent crime grew by 31 percent. Meanwhile, “we still have the same number of investigators we had 30 years ago.
“As the population continues to grow and the number of crimes keeps rising, we have not kept up on our commitment to hold criminals accountable,” Aukes wrote in a memo to the board.
He reminded board members he’d requested another investigator a year ago. “The numbers are still there as is the need for more enforcement.”
Law enforcement activity in Hubbard County rose 300 percent from 1996 to 2012, Aukes reports. 2013 ended up being a record year in calls for service.
“And now in 2014, we are on track for yet another record year,” he said.
The number of car crashes, assaults, dog complaints and civil papers may have no bearing on the number of burglaries that occurred, but it directly affects the amount of time your officers can spend investigating these burglaries, he reminded commissioners.
Aukes included a graph showing thefts and burglaries “are not a nickel and dime ordeal. The average dollar loss per property offense in 2012 in Minnesota was $2,779 for motor vehicle theft, $431 for robbery, $1,388 for burglary and $686 for larceny.
“If we are lucky enough to recover stolen items, the value of those items has been drastically decreased,” Aukes said.
In a comparison of counties, Hubbard County received a 3 on a scale of 1 to 10 for violent crimes, but a 10 - the worst – in property crimes. The state average is 4. Hubbard County has the most property crimes which are investigated by a single officer.
Hubbard County has an overall clearance (solving) rate of 51 percent since 1995. The clearance rate for burglaries in 2012 was 8 percent. The statewide average is 14 percent.
“Solving seven of our 83 burglaries is not good enough,” Aukes said. “We certainly need to do better than that. The deputy that receives the call of a burglary or theft responds and gathers pertinent information. If there is obvious evidence to follow up on at the scene the deputy will do what he/she can on the investigation.
“The problem lies with having the time to do further follow-up on these cases,” he wrote. “The officers are still responsible to take any and all calls that come into the sheriff’s office and each handles 600 to 1,000 calls annually.
“They cannot leave the county to track down stolen property at a pawn shop in Fargo. Or to interview a suspect in Brainerd,” he points out.
“Who can further these investigations? My existing investigator would be the obvious choice. He, however, does not have the time to take on other officer’s cases due to having too many of his own.
“Far too many cases are then filed with no further work going into them.
“Investigators receive specialized training that patrol deputies simply do not receive, and for good reason. Children who are sexually assaulted need someone who has been through the correct training. We cannot have it any other way.
“Victims of fraud. We have so many elderly people in our county who have been targeted with one scam or another. Again, we take their information and seldom catch anyone.
“We are continuously asking law enforcement to do more and more,” Aukes said. “I have no problem with this as long as we have the staff to do it. Felony- level crimes in Hubbard County need to be taken seriously. An additional investigator will give us an opportunity to follow up on felony level cases that are currently getting little or no attention.
“I’m not asking for someone to write speeding tickets. I’m asking for an additional staff member to solve more felony crimes in Hubbard County. This will result in more people being arrested. This is an investment in public safety,” Aukes stated.
Action on hiring an additional investigator was postponed.