Is there a crime wave hitting Blue Earth?
Blue Earth Police Chief Tom Fletcher says statistics in his office seem to say yes.
"It's just been crazy here," Fletcher says. "I thought after last year and having a murder in town things would calm down in 2013, but they haven't."
In fact, Fletcher told the Blue Earth City Council that his officers have been very busy since the first of the year.
During a report at the council work session on Monday, June 3, Fletcher reported that the Blue Earth Police Department has been involved in 60 arrests from Jan. 1 to the end of May.
"We did about 36 arrests in that same time last year," he says. "Plus, we have taken about 200 more calls this year as opposed to last year."
The total number of calls through May have been 2,118. It was 1,908 this same time period last year. And only 1,472 in 2011.
What is driving the increase in criminal activity? Fletcher isn't sure.
But one area that has kept the officers hopping is drugs.
"Meth is back," Fletcher says. "Our number of drug arrests is way up. Out of the 60 arrests, 44 have been for narcotics. There have been a lot of thefts, too."
The chief says the department's evidence room in the Public Safety Building is full. A lot of it is recovered items from burglaries and thefts.
"After we get done with a case we can release the evidence," he says. "It usually goes to an insurance company that has paid the homeowner for the loss."
Luckily, the increase in crime has been handled by the department, which has gained a couple of officers recently.
But, whether the department is at "full strength" is still up for debate. While some City Council members feel it is, the chief doesn't fully agree.
"We currently have five full-time officers," Fletcher says. "There are four besides me."
The chief recalls that when he was first on the force, there were seven police officers.
"At that time the chief did not do patrolling and only did administrative work," he says.
On the other hand the department has been as low as four total.
"We do have to fill in with part-time officers, especially in the summer," the chief says. "And, that is not always easy."
While the department has 20 part-timers on their list to call, and recently trained in three more, only a couple are actively working in Blue Earth at this time.
Most officers on the list are working full-time somewhere else and do part-time work for a variety of area law enforcement agencies, not just in Blue Earth.
Fletcher also reported to the council that animal calls in the city are also on the increase.
"So far this year Todd Heenan (the city animal control officer) has had 45 calls inside the Blue Earth city limits," Fletcher says. "He averages nine calls a month, just for Blue Earth."
The chief told the council not all the calls are for loose dogs. Many are for wild animals which are then caught in live traps.
The department also has several other duties that keeps it busy.
Recently they sent out 28 letters to residents who were found to be not in compliance with zoning ordinances for such things as abandoned motor vehicles.
Three were still in non-compliance, Fletcher told the council, and two of those have had multiple citations.
"We have sent one to the city attorney for prosecution," he said.
Fletcher also says he expects his officers to stay busy this summer with traffic issues dealing with the road construction on Highway 169 and the detours.
"People like to drive around barricades and take shortcuts," he says. "We will be on the lookout for that."