- Associated Press - Thursday, December 15, 2016

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - The fight against growing methamphetamine use and mounting drug arrests in South Dakota should include a new interstate drug trafficking task force, law changes to allow authorities to wiretap cellphones and a range of other efforts, a state workgroup recommended Thursday.

The group formed by Gov. Dennis Daugaard also recommended boosting incentives for offenders to complete treatment and coordinating meth-prevention programs. The proposals arrive against the backdrop of “unprecedented stress” on South Dakota’s criminal justice system because of methamphetamine use, according to the group’s report.

It said that between fiscal years 2014 and 2015, drug arrests grew 20 percent, while meth-related arrests jumped 40 percent. Officials also found that drug crimes accounted for 41 percent of prison admissions in fiscal year 2016, up from 35 percent the previous year.

“The policy recommendations within the report represent the state’s next steps to fight the meth epidemic,” Daugaard said in a statement. Officials must concentrate on stopping meth from entering the state, keeping people from using it and helping those who are addicted become sober, he said.

The governor is taking the recommendations under consideration and will address the issue in his State of the State address next month, spokeswoman Kelsey Pritchard said in an email.

Under the recommendations, offenders who undergo a court-ordered clinical assessment and complete the requirements imposed within a year would have a one-time opportunity to drop a possession or ingestion charge from a felony to a misdemeanor.

The group also suggested that people on probation or parole be subjected to mandatory incarceration for positive drug tests. Officials proposed adding crimes including public corruption, possession of a firearm by a felon, assault by a prisoner in a county jail and promoting the prostitution of a minor to a list of crimes that don’t receive the presumption of probation at sentencing.

The report suggests revising probation and parole laws so that authorities can focus on high-risk offenders. Under the proposal, officials would end supervision and discharge well-behaved offenders if they have been under supervision for at least a year; have finished required treatment programs; and are under supervision for a presumed probation crime, among other requirements.

Hughes County Sheriff Mike Leidholt, a member of the task force, said he hopes the recommendations would spur a reduction in meth use, which he called “a huge problem.”

In Minnehaha County, authorities saw a nearly 70 percent increase in robberies during the first six months of this year. Sheriff Mike Milstead attributed the jump largely to meth users and traffickers. Milstead, who wasn’t on the task force, pushed back against reducing penalties for drug offenders, saying that people who are addicted to meth and other drugs can be dangerous.

The group’s report said that as interstate trafficking replaces home production of meth, law enforcement needs to be able to gather the intelligence necessary to combat criminal organizations of increasing complexity. That means changing state law to allow authorities to wiretap cellphones - not just landlines, according to the recommendations.

“I, quite frankly, don’t know any drug dealers that are sitting at home on their rotary phone,” said Milstead, who noted that wiretaps are extremely rare.

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