Morrison County Sheriff Shawn Larsen stressed the need for residents to give detailed information when reporting a crime during his report to the County Board of Commissioners, Tuesday.
He said the Sheriff’s Office has had an issue with people calling to report crime in their area, but not following up with vital information law enforcement needs to conduct an investigation. This is particularly true in relation to illegal drug activity.
“What I mean by that is, we’ve had people call saying, ‘You know, we’ve got a major issue in this area of the county,’” Larsen said. “My advice to them is, if it’s ongoing, if you see short-term traffic, if you see illegal activity, you’ve got to call it in now; you’ve got to call it in while it’s occurring.”
He believes a lot of that is due to people not wanting to get involved, or anxiety they may feel about the possibility of a suspect finding out who reported them. Those worries are unnecessary, however, as Larsen said callers who report a crime can remain anonymous.
Commissioner Randy Winscher clarified by asking Larsen and County Attorney Brian Middendorf what the odds would be of his name being used during a potential trial or hearing if he reported a crime. Both said, if the complainant wished to remain anonymous, that would be respected.
Larsen added that getting key information is what’s most important, from a law enforcement prospective.
“Normally, you do have the option of remaining anonymous,” Middendorf said. “(You can) call (dispatch) and say you’re observing certain activity occurring at a certain place, you don’t have to give your name or address or phone number or anything like that. What’s important is, law enforcement has the information and they can conduct an independent investigation. In which case, we wouldn’t need the name of the person that called it in, because everything we would need would be coming from law enforcement after they conduct their own investigation.”
“So, bottom line, if they requested to be anonymous, they can do that and become a little bit more at ease to say if they see something?” Winscher said.
Larsen said that was “absolutely” the case.
The sheriff said uneasiness on the part of a complainant can also hinder the investigation.
He said there have been times when, following a report, the Sheriff’s Office has sent an undercover unit to the area to monitor the situation or do surveillance. In some parts of the county, he said that has worked great. In others, not so much.
“In some parts of the county, even though the complainant wanted that, we’ll show up and then they’re like, ‘I don’t like this. Try a different method. Don’t use my residence; don’t use my yard,’” Larsen said.
Essentially, it is not always easy for investigators to do surveillance to follow up on a particular complaint.
In all, the Sheriff’s Office took part in 11 drug investigations during the month of June. That is equal to how many were conducted in June 2020. It is not, however, as simple as hearing of illegal activity and going out and arresting someone.
“I can tell you as soon as we make a traffic stop, word gets out and movement just stops,” Larsen said. “I think the word spreads fast. So, we’re trying different methods, but we’re definitely doing everything we can.”
One issue involving drugs he did note was that there has been a rise of pressed fentanyl pills circulating in the St. Cloud area recently. He said the Sheriff’s Office had information indicating some of that was spilling over into Morrison County.
He reminded residents that Morrison County has a drug tip line that is monitored daily. He said situations where someone has noticed suspicious or illegal activity, but it is not currently in progress, warrant a call to the tip line, which can be reached at (320) 632-0377 or (888) 378-4847.
“But, if it’s information where it’s like, they’re witnessing firsthand, short-term traffic, or they’re witnessing some ongoing illegal criminal activity that’s taking place, that’s where we need the phone call immediately to our dispatch center so we can do something about it,” Larsen said.
Board Chair Mike Wilson also asked Middendorf if he could explain how the process works after someone is arrested. He said the commissioners often get questions from constituents pertaining to the short amount of time some people are in custody.
Middendorf said there are several factors in play after an arrest. Sometimes, his office is unable to charge someone right away. In that case, the suspect is released — they cannot be held if they’re not being charged at that time — while a followup investigation is conducted. Once charges are filed, they are then taken into custody.
“The bottom line is, everyone is entitled to be heard in court within a period of time, usually 48 hours, and everyone’s entitled to bail,” Middendorf said. “And that’s a decision that’s made by the judge. The judge imposes bail with release conditions designed and intended to protect the public.”
For example, if the person was arrested on suspicion of a drug offense, the condition of bail will be to abstain from drugs or alcohol. They also may be asked to submit to random testing or testing on demand from law enforcement.
That, he said, is designed to protect the public while their case is pending.
“Everyone’s entitled to some fair bail amount that’s set by a judge after their first appearance,” Middendorf said. “And so, that’s why they may be released. But they are being monitored.”
Board of Commissioners Briefs:
In other business Tuesday, the Morrison County Board of Commissioners:
• Proclaimed Tuesday, July 27, as County Staff Appreciation Day;
• Approved a joint powers agreement the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and Morrison County Community Corrections for criminal justice data communications;
• Approved a resolution at the request of the Morrison County Veterans Services Office to accept a 2022 grant from the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs;
• Approved a request for the Lincoln Scandia Valley Lions Club to hold bingo on Oct. 2, at the Pine Ridge Golf Club in Motley;
• Approved a request from Auditor/Treasurer Chelsey Robinson to do banking business at Stearns Bank of Upsala; and
• Authorized the signing of an engineering services agreement for the Elmdale Township Bridge L2924 replacement project on 20th Avenue.
The next meeting of the Board of Commissioners is a planning session at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 3, in the Board Room at the Morrison County Government Center.