At its most recent regular meeting, the Kalona City Council saw a changing of the guard when it came to the monthly briefing given by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office. Used to …
At its most recent regular meeting, the Kalona City Council saw a changing of the guard when it came to the monthly briefing given by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office. Used to being updated by Lt. Randy Tinnes, who retired at the end of December after more than 35 years of service, the city council will now hear from Lt. Chad Ellis; to facilitate the transition, County Sheriff Jared Schneider presented numbers to the council on Jan. 16.
Schneider spoke at greater length than has been typical, and council members took the opportunity to ask questions.
“Looking at the calls from December, [they’re] up a little bit from the previous year. You had 60 in 2021 and you’re up to 85 last month with some suspicious activity kind of leading the way, other than traffic stops. That’s more calls, a few drug violations, some public service contacts,” Schneider reported.
“Next month we hope to have a contract ready for contract law enforcement,” he continued, going on to explain some of the details that are being worked out. As the city does not have its own independent police department, it contracts for services with the county.
“The unfortunate side of what we’ve been trying to work on is our calls have kind of gone up a lot,” Schneider said.
“Have you seen an increase across the board, or in specific areas?” asked council member Greg Schmidt.
“One in particular, Riverside’s calls have seen a significant increase,” Schneider said.
He then detailed how the office has changed how it tracks and categorizes calls recently, but that their procedure for creating incident reports has not changed, and those incident reports show a “more true picture” of current activity in the county.
“I would say overall, since things opened back up after COVID, it just seems like things picked up and haven’t ever slowed down,” he said. “If you looked at the winter months, historically, you maybe slow down a little bit. And I think over the last couple of years, it sustains pretty consistent throughout the year. You don’t see those slowdowns like we’ve had before.”
Schmidt asked what sorts of calls seem to be increasing.
“I don’t have it with me, but the county attorney puts out some pretty good numbers of the more common crimes in Washington County. Those are the things that are going through his office to be prosecuted,” Schneider said.
Looking at those numbers, the top ten most common crimes in Washington County in 2022 were, in descending order: drug possession; operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated; possession of drug paraphernalia; driving while license is denied, suspended, cancelled, or revoked under 321.218; theft; speeding; violation of no contact order; assault; driving while license is barred; and domestic abuse assault.
“We hit new records for indictments and collections [in 2022],” John Gish, Washington County Attorney, told The News in an email. “Drug possession remains the #1 crime in Washington County, with methamphetamine possession being the drug of choice.”
Looking back over the last three years of data, Gish saw an increase in each of the top ten crimes. The two that saw the largest increases – 61% -- are domestic abuse assault and driving while license is denied, suspended, cancelled, or revoked. The smallest increase – 13% -- was in assault.
From 2013 to 2020, the annual average of criminal indictments filed against suspects was 348. In 2021, 437 criminal indictments were filed; in 2022, that number was 490.
“I think one of them that stands out a lot is domestic abuse and neighbors not getting along, which might not necessarily turn into a call, but that is probably one of the more common things that we deal with today that maybe ten, 15 years ago we didn’t get in the middle of as much. But it seems like nowadays the first thing you have to do is to turn to us to try to sort through problems,” Schneider told the council.
“With us having so much growth, I didn’t know if we were seeing incidences of theft and things of that nature,” Schmidt said.
Schneider replied that theft does occasionally occur, but the incidences have been consistent. He gave an example of a recent suspicious activity report: “Reports a loud noise coming from JW’s near the grain bins.”
As Schmidt noted, Kalona has had significant growth in the last year or so. Numbers provided by the city clerk indicate that the city budget reflected a population of 2363 from 2019 to 2022; for the 2022-2023 budget, the population increased to 2630. That increase of 267 new residents amounts to 11% growth.
However, if we go back to the number of calls from Kalona that the sheriff received in 2022 (85 calls) compared to 2021 (60 calls), we see an increase of 41%. The increase in calls to law enforcement is far greater than can be explained by population growth alone.
So what kinds of conclusions can we draw here?
First, that even though the threats posed by fentanyl have made it the centerpiece of awareness campaigns both nationally and statewide, our most critical drug issue locally continues to be methamphetamine.
Second, that issues in personal relationships may be becoming more commonplace, more severe, or require more outside intervention.
Third, that COVID may have been a tipping point, and our behaviors may have changed as a result. For how long, however, remains an open question.
At the end of the discussion, Mayor Mark Robe thanked Schneider and congratulated Ellis on his new appointment.
“Next time we’ll have him sit in the hot seat,” Schneider said, eliciting laughter from the council.