The number of adults charged with felonies in Dakota County decreased by 12 percent from the previous year according to the 2009 annual report released this week by the Dakota County Attorney's office.
In 2009, 1,514 adults were charged with felony offenses compared to 1,729 adults charged in 2008.
However, Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom cautions the drop is not quite that large because most of the decrease is tied in directly to a drop of charges through the Dakota County Sheriff's office. The decrease is mainly due to a significant drop in the number of welfare fraud cases charged.
"The largest decrease in cases charged was in welfare fraud cases; we are short-staffed due to budget factors," he said. "We have 100 cases pending that are under review, and it is being addressed."
Still, people should be happy about the annual numbers, Backstrom said.
"It is still good news," he said. "Dakota County is still a safe place to live."
The jurisdiction showing the largest decrease in felony charges was the Dakota County Sheriff's office. It showed almost a 50 percent decrease in charges - 110 filed in 2009 compared to 219 in 2008 (again due mostly to welfare fraud investigations).
Other jurisdictions showing decreased felony charges were Apple Valley, Burnsville, Eagan, Inver Grove Heights, Lakeville, Rosemount and South St. Paul. Jurisdictions showing increases were Hastings (82 to 86), Farmington, and West St. Paul.
Drug charges drop
Drug offenses continue to represent the largest category of cases charged by the Dakota County Attorney's office. The number of people charged with drug offenses in 2009 represents about 25 percent of the entire felony caseload of the Dakota County Attorney's office.
In 2009, 375 individuals were charged with felony drug crimes in Dakota County, compared to 414 in 2008, or a decrease of 9 percent.
"While illegal drug use in Dakota County and across our state continues to be an enormous problem, this is the fourth year in a row in which we have seen significant drops in the number of individuals charged with illegal drug crimes in our community, which is obviously a good sign," Backstrom said. "Illegal drug charges continue as the most frequently charged felony in Dakota County, just as they have since 1997."
He noted that methamphetamine continues to be the number one illegal drug involved in criminal charges in Dakota County, although the number dropped significantly last year. A total of 124 individuals were charged with meth-related felonies in 2009, compared to 162 the previous year, or a decrease of 23 percent.
No meth labs were seized in 2009 - 28 meth labs were seized in the county in 2004. But the meth is still coming here, now from Mexico, Backstrom said.
The other drug-related offenses that showed a decrease last year were those related to cocaine. A total of 81 people were charged with cocaine-related offenses, compared to 124 charged in 2008.
The number of people charged with heroin-related offenses, however, increased significantly in 2009 - 22, compared to seven charges in 2008. People charged with prescription-related offenses increased from 49 to 73 in 2009. Those charged with marijuana-related offenses increased slightly, from 75 to 79.
"Heroin is a more pure and dangerous drug," Backstrom said. "It is very dangerous and addictive."
Backstrom said prevention and public awareness efforts concerning methamphetamine had been factors in reducing the drug's use. Both the County Attorney's and Sheriff's offices have conducted many public forums and presentations over the past several years concerning the dangers of methamphetamine use.
The Minnesota County Attorneys Association booth at the Minnesota State Faith for four summers has focused on the dangers of methamphetamine use and broadened the resources to make the public more aware of chemical addiction in the state.
"We have worked together to effectively reduce chemical abuse," Backstrom said. "Coordinating our efforts with law enforcement, treatment and prevention allows us to not only hold offenders accountable, but to educate everyone in the community concerning the extent of the serious problem of chemical addiction."
The Dakota County Drug Task Force has also played an important role, according to Backstrom. The task force consists of officers from the Sheriff's Office, and police departments in the cities of Apple Valley, Burnsville, Eagan, Farmington, Hastings, Inver Grove Heights, Lakeville, Mendota Heights, Rosemount, South St. Paul, West St. Paul and Savage. The coordinated law enforcement efforts investigate illegal drug activity and identify people involved in illegal drug sale or use.
Many drug-related crimes are committed by individuals who themselves are addicted to drugs. Backstrom collaborates with a team of staff from Dakota County Community Corrections, judges, law enforcement and other criminal justice professionals in Dakota County Adult Drug Court. The team identifies and implements policies and procedures to more effectively and efficiently address repeat and non-violent drug offenders who demonstrate willingness to address their chemical addictions. There are currently 30 offenders in the Adult Drug Court programs - the first graduation was held in December.
After increasing for several years, the number of violent crime charges dropped last year in Dakota County. A total of 539 charges were filed, compared to 646 in 2008, a decrease of almost 17 percent. Felony crimes of violence include homicide, assault, offenses involving dangerous weapons, kidnapping, robbery, sex offenses, criminal vehicular homicide/injury, and terrorist threats.
The 10-year average for violent crimes charged in Dakota County is 464.
Six individuals were charged with murder or manslaughter; the cases involved six deaths. Three of the individuals were charged with killing family members.
Felony domestic violence charges were filed against 57 individuals in 2009, compared to 65 in 2008.
One individual was charged with criminal vehicular homicide in 2009 for a crash that occurred in 2008. Additionally, 12 adults were charged with criminal vehicular injury in 2009.
Felony DWI (driving while intoxicated) charges were filed against 50 individuals in 2009, compared to 55 in 2008. A felony DWI offense can result if an offender has been convicted of three DWI's in the last 10 years.
The Dakota County Attorney's office was involved in filing or responding to 55 appeals in criminal cases in 2009.
A total of 11,952 court calendar events were scheduled in 2009. Of those, 2,074 were contested hearings and jury trials. Another 1,844 court hearings were held to determine if individuals had violated the terms of probation.