Wilkin County experienced a record number of felony and misdemeanor cases in 2020, County Attorney Carl Thunem said at the county board meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 12.
In his year-end report, Thunem found there was one person involved in a major crime for every 30 citizens of Wilkin County last year.
Thunem has been collecting case data from 2015-2020. The only section of data that notably decreased in 2020 from the previous year was child welfare cases, but this could be due to less incidents being reported as teachers had less contact with their students amid the pandemic, county Human Services Director Dave Sayler said in a previous article.
The data on misdemeanor, gross misdemeanor and felony cases reflects an increasing trend beginning in 2017.
“It’s an exceedingly high rate, and you can see there’s been a large scale increase over time, which has, frankly, been a geometric increase over the last three years,” Thunem said.
Thunem said the increase in cases cannot be wholly attributed to an increase in crime. Some could be due to personnel changes within the sheriff’s office and police department. He said some of the younger officers and deputies may be ferreting out crime in the county with more zeal than past staff.
The rising popularity of marijuna oil and wax, commonly used in vaping pens or concentrate pipes, has also contributed to the increase in cases.
Commissioner Lyle Hovland questioned if some states have legalized resinous forms of marijuana. They have, Thunem said. So far, when a state has legalized marijuana, they have legalized all forms of the plant.
Resinous marijuana is more potent and easier to transport, Thunem said, and marijuana users may prefer an oil or wax over smoking the bud of the plant. The issue lies in that marijuana oil and wax in small quantities are treated the same as methamphetamine. Possession of any amount of resinous marijuana constitutes a gross misdemeanor, and in larger quantities, a felony.
Thunem said there is also a significant increase in meth use, particularly involving needles. Before 2020, he said he might see a case or two a year involving needles. Last year, nearly half of meth-related cases involved them, he said. Heroin and fentanyl cases also increased last year.
“I have not changed how I charge out crimes,” Thunem said. “I do the same work today as I did in 2016, as far as how I evaluate cases. I realize I’m more aggressive than many prosecutors and less aggressive than some. I try to be tough, smart and fair in how I make my charging decisions and do all my work. Obviously, this is not a good long-term trend.”