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Column: Ripped from the headlines - crime is rising

The decline in major criminal cases has ended in Goodhue County. After three years of felony and gross misdemeanor cases ranging from 485 in 2008, 467 in 2009 and 475 in 2010, the number of major criminal cases rose to 568 in 2011, a 20 percent increase in one year.

The headlines in the Republican Eagle resonate with the individual incidents that make up the whole.

There were 147 crimes against persons versus 148 last year - no major increase here, but 144 crimes against property versus 86 in 2010, up 67 percent. There were 190 alcohol and drug-related crimes up from 171 in 2010 and from 138 in 2009. Of these drug-related offenses, controlled-substance crimes numbered 103, up from 75 in 2010 and from 57 in 2009, with over half of the offenses related to methamphetamine.

Nationwide similar increases in crime have occurred in the past year.

Unfortunately, the large increase in crimes against property is fueled by large increases in burglaries -- 26 in 2010 to 48 in 2011, an all-time high number. Concurrently, thefts associated with those burglaries rose from 21 in 2010 to 48 in 2011.

The numbers appear to be driven, at least in part, by the increase in controlled-substance and related crimes.

Addicts are stealing to support their habits.

In many cases, school-age abusers of prescription drugs, such as oxycontin, have become addicted to opiates, including heroin, as they graduate to cheaper street drugs when shared and stolen prescriptions become too expensive and hard to get after they leave high school.

The methamphetamine problem, consisting mostly of Mexican meth rather than the homemade mixtures we previously saw, is back and usage is just as addictive and destructive as ever.

Child protection cases, including truancies, 84 in 2011, are returning to the higher numbers seen before in 2009 - 55, in 2010 -- 76.

In addition to the increased major criminal prosecutions, the County Attorney's Office also represented the Goodhue County Board in hearings before the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission concerning the proposed AWA Goodhue Wind project. Three days of hearings before an administrative law judge bracketed by appearances before PUC commissioners resulted in a commission permit granting the developer authority to proceed while incorporating additional requirements from Goodhue County's more restrictive ordinance and requirements for more environmental studies of project impacts on eagles and bats.

Today the wind project is on hold and county staff resources have been shifted to analyzing the prospects for possible county regulation of silica sand mining, processing and transportation issues. Goodhue County's Sand Mining Moratorium expires in September 2012, and the Mining Study Committee assisted by Land-use Management and Attorney Office staff is on track to propose standards for consideration by the Planning Commission and the County Board before the expiration of the moratorium.

All of this work promises another year of headlines.