Drugs blamed for jump in violent crime

Published 2:33 am Friday, August 29, 2003

By By JOHN EBY / Cassopolis Vigilant
CASSOPOLIS -- Sheriff Joseph M. Underwood Jr. blames Cass County's drug problem for an increase in violent crime, including the recent shootings of two men who tried to foil three masked robbers at The Cottage tavern in Dowagiac.
Underwood delivered his 2001-2002 annual report Thursday afternoon to the Board of Commissioners at the Edward Lowe Center for the Council on Aging.
Law enforcement functions in the Office of Sheriff divide into three major divisions -- central dispatch, road patrol and corrections.
The total number of calls central dispatch handles for all law enforcement agencies, EMS and fire services increase each year to almost 50,000 calls in 2002.
Calls for service dealt with by Sheriff's Office personnel directly climbed from 23,456 in 2000 to nearly 27,500 calls in 2002.
The dispatch center, an extremely busy hub of operations for law enforcement operations countywide, moves to its new headquarters next month adjacent to the 1899 historic courthouse from the 1990 jail.
Members of the patrol division responded to more than 1,300 traffic crashes in 2002, including 14 fatalities.
The 14 traffic deaths doubled from seven in 2001. There were nine in 2001. The last time there were as many as 14 was in 1995, though there were 31 fatalities in 1991, 28 in 1992, 15 in 1993 and 20 in 1994.
Drunk driving (OUIL) arrests increased 17 percent to 138. Complaints involving proprty crimes such as larceny, fraud, malicious destruction of property (MDOP), motor vehicle theft and arson totaled 1,037 -- an increase over the previous year of nearly 200 calls.
Assaultive crimes, including assault, aggravated assault, home invasions and criminal sexual conduct climbed by almost 30 percent from 2001 to 786 in 2002.
The home invasion category alone saw an increase of 31 percent from 261 complaints in 2001 to 343 in 2002.
Arrests for domestic violence have been incresing at an "alarming rate" each year, the sheriff reported. For the five-year period 1998-2002, the number of arrests for domestic violence grew from 87 to 179 -- a jump of more than 100 percent.
The corrections division is charged with housing and providing inmates with care, including nutrition and medical services. Corrections staff also transport offenders to court and prison as required.
On average, 2,800 bookings and 2,500 releases are completed each year.
Of the average daily population of 130 inmates during 2002, 120 were Cass County inmates. Only 10 were offenders being held for other jurisdictions, meaning that a once-lucrative revenue source for this county has been choked off to the point where it's "fallen off the radar screen" from one of the top four, as Underwood put it.
The jail population of 130 also means the facility is routinely surpassing its capacity of 116.
This downward trend is likely to continue in light of the state's decision to discontinue funding for felony drunk drivers in fiscal year 2004 and revisions to the legislative sentence guidelines.
His office continues efforts to maximize collection of room and board payments from local inmates -- $63,999 in 2000, $52,074 in 2001 and $54, 214.31 in 2002.
Of the intake of 2,669 inmates in 2002, 2,199 were males and 470 were females. The number of females has remained about the same, including 485 in 2000 and 491 in 2001.
Food cost $200,739.31 in 2002, up from $168,397.86 in 2001 and $183,585.59 in 2000.
Not surprisingly, summer months are the heaviest times for service calls, including 4,897 in August, 4,890 in July and 4,577 in June 2002. Likewise, weekends are the busiest, with 7,757 calls on Saturday, 7,683 calls on Friday, 7,031 on Tuesday, 6,999 on Thursday, 6,876 on Monday, 6,738 on Sunday and 6,731 on Wednesday.
Motor vehicles thefts increased from 43 in 1999 to 45 in 2000, 56 in 2001 and 65 in 2002.
Drunk driving arrests jumped from 140 in 1999 to 176 in 2002, dipped to 118 in 2001 and rebounded to 138 in 2002.
Traffic citations totaled 3,801 in 1999, 3,866 in 2000, 3,001 in 2001 and 3,702 in 2002.
The 1,305 traffic crashes last year jumped from 1,208 in 2001, 1,224 in 2000 and 1,224 in 1999.
Non-aggravated assault went from 301 in 1999 to 306 in 2000, 252 in 2001, then up to 349 in 2002. The 28 aggravated assaults were down from 37 in 2001, 38 in 2000 and 27 in 1999.
Arsons increased from four in 1999 to 11 in 2000, 16 in 2001 and 23 in 2002.