County law agencies have challenges in 2013

Washington County law enforcement agencies took their turn Tuesday at the budget table with the Board of Commissioners.

Sheriff Bill Hutton, County Attorney Pete Orput and Community Corrections Director Tom Adkins presented their departments’ 2013 proposed budgets. Because all three departments rely heavily on the county tax levy for their revenues, the trio instead focused much of their presentations on the challenges their departments face and programs to address them.

Hutton said his office would lose a school resource office in the Mahtomedi school district in a budget-reduction move by the Mahtomedi school board.

“We continue to talk with them. It is not a decision that I agree with,” he said.

Hutton also told commissioners that although Narcotics Task Force officers have seen a reduction in marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine, drug cases involving heroin are rising, especially among teenagers and young adults.

“Unfortunately, one of the most serious things we’re dealing with is heroin,” he said, with many users 16 to 26 years of age, he added

“The path they’re taking to heroin is prescription drugs,” Hutton said.

However, the sheriff said the department’s “Take It to the Box” campaign that allows county residents to drop unused prescription drugs in a secure drop box at the Law Enforcement Center has grown to where the WCSO plans adding two drop boxes in service centers in the northern and southern part of the county.

Orput discussed two programs in his office that handle two very different groups — returning combat veterans in legal trouble and truant students.

Orput said his newly created veterans’ program has 13 veterans signed up and is evaluating several others for the program.

“They (veterans) have to ask us if they can participate in the program,” he said.

Veterans in the program have veteran mentors to work with them in a non-adversarial approach between prosecutors and defense attorneys and undergo a coordinated treatment services with Community Corrections and Community services.

“I anticipate this program growing,” Orput said. “I’ve been told by the VA that other counties in the nation are looking at this program.

Truancy cases are also getting attention from the County Attorney’s Office, especially after an Aug. 1 change in state law gives courts jurisdiction over students until they are 19 years old, Orput said.

Orput has assigned a prosecutor to the truancy initiative to meet with county agencies and school districts to identify and maximize opportunities to reduce truancy petitions to the court.

“If we don’t educate kids, we’re probably going to incarcerate them,” he said. “We plan to push hard on truancy.”

Orput said his office holds countywide attendance intervention meetings three times a month with students and their parents and 16 and 17 year olds are offered diversion contracts by his office.

Orput also said his office is pursuing faster decisions on whether to pursue cases brought by authorities. He said case turnaround time has dropped from 26 days in 2009 to 6 days this year.

Orput added that when county prosecutors decline a case, they must notify officers and victims to explain the decision. He also said his office is training police officers on the law and proper investigation procedures to further reduce declined cases.

“We want to see case declinations way, way down,” he said.

Adkins described the 2013 Community Corrections budget as “very small,” his department’s second-lowest budget in the last five years.

One area Adkins said Community Corrections is aggressive is collection of service fees charged to offenders. He added that the department works with a collection agency to get offenders to pay their court-ordered fees.

Another benefit Adkins said Community Corrections sees in its 2013 budget is lower drug-testing costs, especially for synthetic marijuana, which drops from $100 per test to $6 per test.

“Drug testing is a constant ‘keeping up with the Joneses,’ ” he said.

Adkins said the biggest unknown his department faces annually is the number of juveniles and adults probation officers will supervise.

“We don’t know who will come through the door,” he said.

But Adkins said based on 2012 numbers through June, his department expects juvenile placements and placement days to rise.

“Child placement numbers are on the rise but remain manageable,” he said. “We’re hopeful we’ll remain in good shape here.”