In an effort to stem crime related to methamphetamine and opioid use, Polk County Board members are asking legislators to increase consequences for dealers.
In a resolution passed unanimously April 16, the Polk County Board urged Governor Tony Evers and the Wisconsin legislature to “make sweeping changes” to state sentencing guidelines, increasing confinement for those convicted of the sale or distribution of meth and opioids.
The measure also urges the Wisconsin Counties Association to help lobby legislators to increase sentencing guidelines in such cases.
Supervisor Brad Olson, Clam Falls, said the resolution was a response to discussions with constituents.
“People are sick and tired of opening the newspaper and seeing someone arrested four, five, six, seven times for distributing drugs, getting a slap on the wrist and being told, ‘Don’t go out and do it again,’” he said. “Individuals who work inside the county have told me we’re at a tipping point. Is this resolution going to solve it? No. But if we don’t admit we have a problem, we’ll never get it fixed.”
Before passing the resolution, the board removed a paragraph urging the county’s district attorney and judges to dispense faster prosecution and sentencing. Some believed that particular request was beyond the scope of the board as a legislative body.
“Everyone knows we have a problem,” said Supervisor Joe Demulling, Star Prarie. “You can’t tell the court system what to do. We need to address that through the legislature.”
Not all agreed, saying the resolution was nothing more than a request.
“We’re not here to tell the judge or district attorney what they can do or can’t do,” said Supervisor Chris Nelson, Balsam Lake. “But I’ve sat through a couple meth cases recently, and this is to urge everyone and send a message to local people saying the county board has heard everyone and we’ve had enough.”
Ultimately the paragraph was nixed, leaving the resolution with a statewide focus.
Addiction a broader problem
Addressing the county board in a discussion related to the resolution, Judge Jeffery Anderson asserted that the county has a problem with more than meth and opioids.
“Do we agree there’s a meth problem in Polk County? Absolutely,” he said. “Is there an opioid problem? It’s coming. Is there a prescription drug problem? You bet. Is there a marijuana problem in Polk County? Yes. Is there an alcohol problem in Polk County? Absolutely. Alcohol is one of our large problems as well. Is there a cocaine problem? Yes.
“We have a number of substance abuse issues,” he continued. “Do we want to look at two substances or do we want to be a county that is more proactive with all substance abuse issues?”
Supervisor Nelson countered that meth is the most serious of the county’s addiction issues.
“If anyone has really been affected by meth, and not just reading it in the paper, meth is the devil,” he said. “Meth destroys not only the individual’s life, their family’s lives, it destroys the community’s lives. It’s a drug that drives people to do serious harm in the community.”
Addressing Anderson, he continued, “You have one experience as a judge. I have another experience living next to a meth house. It is a serious, serious issue.”
Nelson added that he hoped the resolution might prompt county agencies to approach the board requesting funds to help address substance abuse.
“We haven’t had anyone lobby us hard for more money for these issues,” Nelson said. “I hope the word ‘urge’ helps the system to come back to us and say they could do a better job with more staff and more funding.”