Over the last five years, the number of drug cases in Scott County has more than doubled, reaching 987 filings last year.
The increase is just one piece of the area’s growing crime rates — rates that, according to county officials, have been driven up by some of the region’s high-profile entertainment venues.
"We're the playground of Minnesota. We've got Mystic Lake, the Renaissance Fest, Valleyfair, Canterbury," Scott County Attorney Ron Hocevar said during a recent presentation to the County Board of Commissioners. "People come here to have a good time. And when we have groups of people that gather, crime happens.
"Where's there's money, there's drugs; where there's drugs, there's crime. So those venues absolutely drive up the crime rate," Hocevar concluded.
Hocevar and Assistant Scott County Attorney Michael Groh said the availability of alcohol also leads to DUIs, and the large gatherings of people also result in increased assaults.
Data gathered by the county from the prosecutor's office, county jail and sheriff’s office show 63 percent of felony and gross misdemeanor crimes were committed by out-of-county visitors last year and 37 percent were committed by residents.
For example, in Prior Lake, 352 of 444 high-level crimes — over 79 percent — were committed by visitors.
But the county report shows not all entertainment venues attract crime in the same way. Last year, Prior Lake and Shakopee were the top two locations for crimes committed by non-residents.
In Prior Lake, which is home to both the Mystic Lake and Little Six casinos, about 64 percent of all high-level crimes occurred at an entertainment venue. But in Shakopee, where Valleyfair and Canterbury Park are located, only about 4 percent of the city’s felonies and gross misdemeanors occurred at an entertainment venue.
"To be completely honest, if the casino wasn't there, there wouldn't be nearly the number of crimes that are committed in Prior Lake," Hocevar said. "That type of environment, that type of money, it draws an element."
Officials from the prosecutor's office noted venue owners are diligent in combating crime on their property. Groh said the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community has been "cooperative and helpful" in prosecuting crimes at its casinos. He said the tribe's surveillance equipment has been particularly helpful in cases of drug abuse, assaults and fraud.
Prior Lake Police calls from the Mdewakanton community in general also increased from 2017 to 2018, according to the city's annual police report.
The community does not have its own police force but paid $500,000 to the city in 2018 primarily for police service. That payment will go up to $530,000 in 2019, according to the mutual aid agreement.
“The SMSC has a high success rate in identifying criminal behaviors,” Tribal Administrator Bill Rudnicki said in a statement. “This is due to the investments we make in cutting-edge security and surveillance technology; our dedicated, proactive employees; our zero-tolerance policy against illegal activity on the reservation; and our strong relationships with the Prior Lake Police Department and other law enforcement agencies.”
Mdewakanton Public Safety, the tribe’s fire and ambulance department, also assists with emergency service calls throughout Scott County.
And residents aren’t impervious to drug and alcohol abuse.
Community Public Health Director Lisa Brodsky said studies by her office of resident health issues also point to a countywide drug problem. Brodsky said alcohol, tobacco and drug use have for the first time taken the spot as the No. 1 health concern in the county's community health assessment.
The increase in drug and alcohol abuse comes as the county tries to change its approach to criminal activity related to addiction. Hocevar said his office is working to decriminalize mental health issues that often go hand-in-hand with addiction.
In the justice system, Groh and Jail Lt. Scott Rettke said they’ve noticed judges are trying to move addicted individuals from jail to treatment programs in the parole and probation stage faster. Data from the jail show the average number of days inmates spent locked up decreased from 10 to eight days from 2017 to 2018.
County officials also credited the creation of specialized court systems like Scott County’s Treatment Court with having an impact on addicted individuals who may have struggled with recidivism in the past. Treatment Court focuses on responding to addiction and its root causes.
The county’s review of parole and probation cases shows the percentage of people maintaining jobs while on probation has risen over the last five years. The data also shows the county has had consistent success making sure the majority of inmates placed on probation, either before or after sentencing, successfully complete their probation orders.
But unless funding and resources increase, Treatment Court may be nearing the boundaries of what it can accomplish. When asked what the county can do to increase the efficacy of the program, Hocevar said options are limited outside of expanding the program physically and financially.
“We don't have the room, we don't have the judges, courtrooms, we don't have the resources — either with the County Attorney's Office, probation, or the courts. So minus the resources, we keep going along and doing what we can.”
The increased crime rate continues to cost the county — and thus residents — more money each year. In response, the county allocated more tax dollars to both the jail and county attorney's office.
The amount of tax dollars devoted to the administration and management of prosecuting crimes — outside of the county attorney's operating budget — increased over $90,000, or about 11 percent, to $891,761, from 2017 to 2018. The administration and management of housing jail inmates increased about $110,000, or 4 percent, to $3.18 million per year.