Looking back at 2022: Pennington County Sheriff’s Office annual report helps develop goals for years to come

RAPID CITY, S.D. – The Pennington County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) Annual Report for 2022 is out, reviewing some of the work that the four different divisions did, sharing statistics, and this year, dedicating a few pages to former Sheriff Kevin Thom.

With jail space as a reoccurring topic, 2022 saw over 10,300 total inmates with an average daily population of almost 600. Like other public safety departments, Mueller says they faced low recruitment and retention rates, but changing strategies improved it near the end of the year. 80% of drug possession arrests is methamphetamine, which has been an issue for the sheriff’s office for years and continues to be.

Last year also had many highlights from Pivot Point, a Crisis Stabilization Unit, opening to wellness programs for officers and their families, like PCSO’s therapy dog Harley. Working to grow partnerships with tribes had wins last year and Mueller hopes to continue and make it better.

Photos of PCSO in 2022:

A Closer Look at the PCSO’s 2022 Annual Report:

Importance of This Report:

“We’re really happy to have sent out our 2022 annual report, something that we’ve done here at the sheriff’s office for a number of years. And I think it’s really important for our community to understand what we do and our community involvement here at the sheriff’s office,” Sheriff Brian Mueller, Pennington County, said. “So it’s a good way for people to take a look at all the different ways that we’re involved in the community. And it highlights the exceptional work that our staff do every day in all four of our divisions.”

“We have a lot of statistics in there that we compare year to year as to different things that we have going on,” Mueller added. “So we also utilize the information in this report kind of as a road map, to help us assess if we’re being effective in different areas and help us highlight what we need to work on and focus on in the years to come. So this report is no different than any other ones in that some of our trends are up, some of our trends are down. But our staff spends a considerable amount of time looking at and digesting what we did the previous year to determine what our goals are for this year.”

A Unique Report:

Annual ReportMueller says that this one is unique from other communities because they not only report the data specific to PCSO, but also data that includes all of Pennington County.

“We include Rapid City statistics, Box Elder statistics in there to give our citizens a good, transparent view of what’s happening across all of Pennington County,” he said. “Not just the portion that the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office is responsible for patrolling, but the crime within our county impacts all of us. It impacts all of our systems, our staff, our quality of life. So we provide all of that information in our annual report, and we’ll continue to do that.

Towards the end of the report, there is also a section about the transition of their office, with a lot of promoting existing staff into new positions.

“It’s been very exciting for me to watch these individuals move into their new roles, take ownership over that and continue to grow our office and build on the solid foundation that we were left,” Mueller said.

This year, though, is unique from previous PCSO annual reports as well, with a few memorable parts of Sheriff Thom’s career.

“I’m really, really excited about rolling this one out. It really highlights Sheriff Kevin Thom, his 12 years in office, all the important work that he did, the solid foundation that he left us. I’m really excited that we’re able to really highlight him in his last year in office as sheriff,” Mueller said. “So a big part of our annual report this year goes to Sheriff Thom and all the exceptional work he’s done for our citizens in our office here in Pennington County.”

In Sheriff Thom’s message at the beginning of the report, he states that “The Pennington County Sheriff’s Office is full of men and women committed to serving others with compassion and respect. You are a great team, doing excellent work and faithfully providing a breadth of crucial resources to our community. Every day you stand between good and evil, supply the highest quality of service even in the most challenging of situations. I am excited about the future of the PCSO and am confident you are in good hands.”

Partnership with Rapid City Police Department:

The partnership between PCSO and the Rapid City Police Department (RCPD) Mueller describes as like “no other county city law enforcement relationship” in the country. This close relationship between the two has also been in place for a few years.

“Chief Hedrick and I have a very good relationship, and I always tell people we share a bathroom and we share a coffee pot on the same floor of our administrative offices, and we solve a lot of issues in the hallway,” Mueller said. “Having that informal and formal relationship in place is a win-win for the citizens of Pennington County and the staff that work here. We’re really in this together. We have conversations every day on what each of our agencies are doing to improve public safety and how we can better work together.”

Drug Possession Arrests:

For drug possession arrests, methamphetamine remained nearly the same from 2021 (80%) to 2022 (80%).

“Methamphetamine is the number one driver of violent crime in our community,” Mueller said. “We’ve talked about that for a lot of years and that continues to be the number one drug that we’re arresting people for in our community. Just this week, we’ve had several different individuals that have been arrested in our community for possession of methamphetamine, along with possession of prohibitive weapons. That’s just something that that continues to be a real issue for us.”

But there also has been an increase of Fentanyl in drug possession arrests, from 2% in 2021 to 5% in 2022. PCSO is also facing a rise in overdose deaths as well and trying to find ways to help where they can.

“The number of overdose deaths continues to rise not only in Pennington County, but in this part of the country,” Mueller said. “That’s something that we’re putting a lot more time and effort and training into.”

Tribal Relations

“Over the last several years, we’ve really worked hard on continuing to build and develop our relationships with our tribal partners. We had some really big wins last year that were highlighted in our annual report,” Mueller said.

Former sheriff Kevin Thom, Oglala Sioux Tribal President Kevin Killer and Oglala Sioux Tribal Police Chief Algin Young all signed a historic agreement Sept. 1, 2022. Both the PCSO and RCPD have spoken against misinformation and racism, and Thom, Killer and Rapid City Chief of Police Don Hedrick were all a part of the community that gathered to denounce racist statements made by Rapid City hotel owners.

“We continue to have frequent and recurring conversation about how do we make things better,” Mueller said. “When we look at issues like methamphetamine and violent crime, they impact all of us here in western South Dakota. All of our partners have recognized that over a number of years. I think people are willing to get involved and work together at a level that we haven’t in the past just because we need to change. We need to change the tide of how these drugs and violent crime are impacting all of our communities. I think that you’re going to see really good things continue on in the future with those partnerships, just because all of us that are involved are committed to making our communities safer. So I think you’re going to continue to see positive change, positive growth with those relationships.”

Jail Space:

Jail space has been something that has been talked about for close to four years, according to Mueller.

  • Total number of days served was 221,419
  • Total number of inmates was 10,311
  • The average daily population was 595
    • 6,823 inmates (66%) were male and 3,488 inmates (34%) were female

“We’ve been pushing our jail at, or just over capacity, and the only real relief valve that we have here with lowering those numbers that’s within our control is how we utilize our contract partnerships,” Mueller said. “Through the course of this last year, we’ve had to move several U.S. Marshal inmates out of custody to keep room for our local population that needs to be in the jail. I’m very committed to making sure that we have adequate space in the jail for the people that need to be here locally, and we’re going to continue to work on strategies with the county commission, with our community and with our other partners to make sure we have adequate space to keep our community safe.”

  • Racial demographics
    • Native American – 60.03% (6,190 inmates)
    • Caucasian – 36.62% (3,776 inmates)
    • Black – 3.09% (319 inmates)
    • Asian – 0.25% (26 inmates)

Recruitment and Retention Rates:

2021 and 2022 were difficult for a number of different industries, but Mueller says that public safety was heavily impacted with retention and recruitment in that time.

“We’re changing our strategies a little bit and we’re starting to see some real success through the end of 2022 and the beginning of 2023,” he said. “We’re hoping to continue and ride that momentum and see very positive changes through 2023.”

It’s not something that’s just impacting PCSO either. It’s affecting RCPD, South Dakota Highway Patrol and the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation.

“Everybody saw a big hit last year with their numbers,” Mueller said. “We’re all working together and independently because we’re recruiting from some of the same pools of individuals to make that better for the future. But one thing I think we really have going for us here that helps with that is we have a very supportive community. We have a supportive county commission, a supportive Rapid City Council. Hopefully, we’ll continue to get support, even through our legislature on things that we can do outside of the box in our communities and across the state of South Dakota to improve recruitment and retention in public safety.”

Mental Health and Wellness:

Harley And SheriffMental health and wellness has been an increased priority in a lot of jobs, and PCSO is no different.

Last year, they launched the Cordico Wellness App which is one of the most comprehensive wellness apps available for First Responders and their families. There’s a Peer Support Team that remains active in all divisions. They also have a therapy dog, Harley, who works part time, to visit employees that might need it.

“Over the last couple of years, we’ve really put a big emphasis here at Pennington County on wellness of our staff,” Mueller said. “Our people have a front row seat to life and it’s not all pretty. For a number of years in public safety, the response has been, ‘we’ll just deal with it.’ But we’ve recognized that that’s not the right way to deal with that. So we’ve continued to try to add to the list of resources that our staff have available to them and their families to help them deal with the stressful work that we do here and in a healthier manner. So they have long lasting, healthy careers here in Pennington County.”

Internet Crimes Against Children:

In the ICAC case examinations, they had collected over 500 devices, 26 arrests and 168 years sentenced in federal prison.

“When we gather evidence and we turn over digital evidence to this team to process,” Mueller said. “A device could be a cell phone, it could be a computer, it could be a laptop, a tablet. Then there’s a process that they go through to extract all of the information off of that device that might be evidentiary for cases. The amount of workload on that unit over the last few years has really increased with the fact that the digital world is where we are now, and a lot of the crimes, unfortunately are committed using digital devices. So we’ve put a lot of effort and resources into making sure that we understand that we stay up on the technology and we’re able to utilize that to the best of our ability to stop people from victimizing other individuals using that technology.”

Differences Between Burglary, Robbery and Theft:

For 2022, PCSO had one robbery, 55 burglaries and 333 thefts; while the overall crime data in the county (which includes Box Elder, Rapid City and Pennington County) was 70 robberies, 538 burglaries and 3,054 thefts.

But how these three crimes are different, how they know what category the crime falls under, is according to South Dakota codified law.

“We differentiate those based on what actually occurred during those crimes,” Mueller explained. “Obviously, theft is stealing property from an individual, burglary is entering a structure and committing a crime, and robbery is actually one person utilizing force against another person to steal something. A lot of people I think confuse theft from burglary from robbery. But they’re very clearly defined in statute and separated out based on different elements of the crimes.”

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