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Drug crimes, burglaries up

During Monday night's council meeting, Alexandria Police Captain Scott Kent (left) received an award from Police Chief Rick Wyffels. (Photo by Al Edenloff)

The good news: The number of car accidents, domestic violence calls and drunk driving arrests in Alexandria dropped in 2012.

The bad news: Burglaries skyrocketed, and assaults, felony arrests and drug-related crimes are all on the rise.

That's according to Alexandria Police Chief Rick Wyffels, who presented his annual report to the Alexandria City Council Monday night.

"Prescription drugs are really on the front burner right now, in an ugly way," said Wyffels.

The police department logged another busy year, handling about 14,000 calls for service, which is about the same as 2011, the chief said. He provided the following breakdown of crimes and incidents in 2012 as compared to 2011 (in parenthesis):

Domestic violence calls - 189 (213). Car accidents - 681 (805). Burglaries - 63 (37). Assaults - 70 (57). Felony arrests - 114 (98). Gross misdemeanor arrests - 64 (92). Misdemeanor arrests - 910 (1,043). Traffic stops - 2,747 (3,003). Driving under the influence arrests - 71 (112). Drug arrests - 78 (50).

"Increases in marijuana, meth and prescription drugs have really crept up in the last year," Wyffels wrote in his report. "Synthetic drugs are also creeping into our community and have become a problem across the country. Several states, including ours, are trying to pass laws to catch up with this new trend."

Wyffels added that cocaine, crack and heroin related crimes are also on the rise.

The number of sex offenders who are actively registered in the city bumped up from 38 to 44, Wyffels said. He explained that the department has developed an in-house mechanism to track and account for the offenders on a regular basis.

"We continually assess, monitor and verify the status and activities involving all the registered sex offenders in the community," Wyffels said. "We make sure we make proper notification to the citizens under state law."

Wyffels repeatedly commended his staff and officers for their diligent service and for working with the public to keep Alexandria safe. He said the Citizens Police Academy has helped the public gain a better understanding of the police force.

He presented a plaque of appreciation to Captain Scott Kent for working in the trenches to keep the department functioning smoothly. He called Kent the "glue that keeps it together."

Other highlights from Wyffels' report:

•Drug box. A drug box for citizens to drop off their expired prescription medication is now available at the police department. A partnership between police, Pope Douglas Solid Waste Management, Pro-Tainer and Winning Edge Graphics made it possible.

•Squad cars. The department's new sport utility vehicles, which include all wheel drive, are the safest and best police cruisers it's ever had on the road, the chief said.

•Special Olympics. Officers and staff volunteered their time to the annual Polar Plunge, which raised $93,000 for Special Olympics. More than 500 plungers participated.

•New officer Matt Carlson will begin his duties on April 1. The 25-year-old officer currently works for the city of Hoyt Lakes.

•Staffing. With the addition of Carlson, the department will have 21 officers. Cities the size of Alexandria average about 1.76 officers per 1,000 people. Using that yardstick, the city should have 23 officers. The national average is two officers per 1,000, meaning that Alexandria should have 26 officers. Wyffels said he wasn't requesting the city to hire that many officers. Instead, the city needs to be smart about its hiring needs and consider the safety of the department. "Officer safety is my number one [priority]," Wyffels said.

•Challenges. Budget cuts and officer staffing are among the department's biggest challenges. It's also recovering from equipment fund reductions. The city continues to grow through annexation and drug problems are also growing. Wyffels said it's important to keep an undercover officer on the West Central Minnesota Drug Task Force. "There is simply no flowery way of putting this," he said. "We have had too many people killed as a result of drug overdoses." Oftentimes, burglaries, assaults, drunk driving, thefts and domestic violence are rooted in drug abuse, he said.

The council thanked Wyffels for his report and his leadership. They also commended the police officers for their teamwork, behind-the-scenes duties and their dedication to their jobs at all times of the day and night.

Al Edenloff
Al Edenloff is the news and opinion page editor for the Echo Press. He was born in Alexandria and lived most of his childhood in Parkers Prairie. He graduated with honors from Moorhead State University with a degree in mass communications, print journalism. He interned at the Echo Press in the summer of 1983 and was hired a year later as a sports reporter. He also worked as a news reporter/photographer. Al is a four-time winner of the Minnesota Newspaper Association's Herman Roe Award, which honors excellence in editorial writing.  
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