When I first took office in 2018, we developed the One Sioux Falls Framework which made “public safety and health” a key focus area for our administration. During my first term, we made this goal a reality by successfully concluding a bargaining contract with our police union; passing a $50 million bond for a new public safety campus and 9-1-1 dispatch center; adding trained mental health officers to the department; opening a community triage center called The Link to reduce prison admissions, among other benefits; and above all, never give in to a narrative that has harmed the support of our men and women in blue.
Given these accomplishments and the incredible dedication of our 277 sworn officers, Sioux Falls remains a safe city. However, when a community grows at the rate we have experienced, it inevitably comes with some growing pains. Challenges related to housing availability, labor shortages, and crime, among others, have become more significant in this time of record growth, and not a day goes by that we don’t work to solve them.
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It’s important to look at recent crime data in Sioux Falls because it offers perspective on what can be an emotionally charged topic. Overall, Sioux Falls’ crime rate remains low, especially compared to other major cities. Our per capita violent crime rates have remained largely stable over the past decade, and this is still the case for 2022. We were fortunate to have gone eight months homicide-free. Tragically, we had two homicides in one weekend in August which we continue to investigate, and we have also committed other gun-related crimes in recent weeks.
In September, Police Chief Jon Thum and I will host a press conference to review our year-to-date crime statistics and the programs our department uses to keep Sioux Falls safe. As we continue to make efforts to crack down on crime, we are also working proactively with our community partners to address the root causes that lead to crime. The goal is to help put individuals on the right track to deter crime today and in the years to come. I want to share some highlights of this work, as well as opportunities for improvement.
Commitment to public safety staffing and budgets remains a priority, as demonstrated once again by our request for more officers in our 2023 budget. public safety to handle increased demands for records, and a talent acquisition specialist focused on hiring and retaining officers.
In addition to staffing, we also need to review our justice and prison systems and review current policy. I have begun the process of bringing together local and county leaders from our state’s major population centers, Minnehaha and Pennington counties, to discuss our common crime challenges. Many of the most violent criminals we see in Sioux Falls are not new faces to our law enforcement professionals. While our laws must certainly allow for second chances when needed, they must also hold people accountable and not allow abuse of the parole process to put our communities at risk.
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There are times when good legislation can have unintended consequences, and that is the case with Senate Bills 70 and 73, passed nearly a decade ago. While this bill has positive elements, we also see some challenges as a result. Many of the offenders who commit violent crimes in our community have previously been incarcerated, but are often released due to the alleged work probation element. Together with our legislative and judicial partners, we must reassess these unintended legislative consequences.
Recently a 14 and 17 year old was treated for gunshot wounds in one of our emergency rooms in Sioux Falls. I have a 14 year old son and it’s hard to imagine him involved in this behavior. These children not only engaged in adult-level criminal behavior, but they were also unwilling to cooperate with our officers in trying to solve this crime. This is disturbing behavior in children and unfortunately we see this situation more than we should.
So what is the answer to situations like this? One thing we can do is promote preventative measures to keep people out of the criminal justice system. Introducing children at an early age with positive programming and role models pays off in providing support and setting them on the path to success. The Sioux 52 mentoring initiative was put in place to intentionally begin to address the challenges we were seeing with youth crime. Camp POSTCARD and the Leaders of Tomorrow Justice-Impacted program are other examples of initiatives we invest in to give people support systems to succeed. These are long-term strategies that are essential for long-term success.
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You have my promise that I will remain – as I have for the first four years in this office – a mayor who will support law enforcement and be tough on crime. Ensuring Sioux Falls remains a safe, livable, and welcoming community during this time of record growth is a priority for our entire city team in the months ahead. We also need our residents to understand that public safety is not just the responsibility of the police. Our partners in the legislative, judicial and educational spheres must all help to propose and implement solutions that create a holistic approach to community safety.
We cannot do this work alone. We need you to mentor a young person. Help a person impacted by the justice system to find accommodation. Look for opportunities to volunteer and serve those close to the edge and in need of support. Report activities that should be reported. By working together as residents and as multiple governing bodies, we can ensure that Sioux Falls can grow safely in the months and years to come.