OTHER VOICES: Rise of both drug, gun crimes ‘is not a coincidence’

September 4, 2018

It’s no secret that methamphetamine has become a major threat to public safety in South Dakota. Its addictive qualities are severe and the consequences ripple through communities in untoward and dangerous ways.

And, now, law enforcement has identified a nexus between meth and the illegal gun trade that poses another threat to public safety.

Last week, Project Safe Neighborhood Task Force members U.S. Attorney Ron Parsons, Attorney General Marty Jackley, Pennington County State’s Attorney Mark Vargo, Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom, Rapid City Police Chief Karl Jegeris and Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco and Explosives officers held a press conference in Rapid City to publicize what they have uncovered since January.

It was startling.

Parsons reported that more than 200 firearms used in crimes, held illegally or with serial numbers removed, have been seized in Rapid City since the first of the year. In addition, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has indicted more than 40 people for drug crimes; numerous others have been charged by the state.

The task force, which was resurrected by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, sees a clear and troubling relationship between the two trends.

“The rise of meth and drug trafficking is a clear and present danger to our children, families and citizens,” Parsons said. “At the same time, gun crimes and other violence are on the rise as well. This is not a coincidence.”

Jegeris said a recent homicide that led to the arrests of two teenagers and an aggravated assault in Founder’s Park are just the most recent examples of an all-too-familiar crime scenario.

“In the last several years, we’ve had a normalization of meth,” he said. “And it affects Rapid City, our tribal neighbors and results in increased violence.”

The task force is pooling resources to focus on the activities of a world that is unknown to most people until they learn about what happened at The Rooster sporting goods store in Rapid City, which has been targeted by gun thieves twice in three years.

In April 2016, 25 handguns were stolen from the store. Two were recovered from a homicide suspect and another from a man who was killed in an officer-related shooting. No arrests have been made in the burglary case.

Recently, 24 handguns were stolen in an overnight burglary there, but the results were vastly different. At last week’s press conference, the task force said its collaborative efforts led to the quick arrest of four suspects and the recovery of 22 of the stolen handguns. The suspects now face theft and drug charges that could take them off the streets for years.

The task force deserves credit for the quick action but more importantly for combining the resources of the various agencies to tackle a two-headed monster that poses a threat to all citizens.

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