Criminal cases on the rise

Sheriff, prosecutor: Crime not necessarily higher; officers working harder

By the beginning of July, the Brown County Prosecutor’s Office will have filed about 400 criminal cases this year.

That’s how many were handled during all of 2015. For 2016, the total was 531.

It’s not necessarily because more crime has been happening in Brown County, said Sheriff Scott Southerland. It’s a difference in the way police are working.

“There is probably more crime in some areas — I know there is — but the guys are doing some reports on some things that they normally, in the past, wouldn’t have done reports on,” Southerland said.

“People are doing better work. They’re working harder, they’re working smarter, and they are receiving an unusually high level of training,” Southerland said.

Southerland’s goal was to get every deputy to take two specialized classes every year in addition to their 24 hours of mandatory training. Those special classes could include such topics as accident reconstruction, homicide investigations and drug smuggling.

“We kind of let them pick where their interest lies, thinking they would be more motivated to love it and put it to use once they get back here,” he said.

The sheriff and prosecutor said new detectives Brian Shrader and Paul Henderson have closed some difficult cases, including the St. David’s Episcopal Church vandalism case.

“They come back enthusiastic from what they’ve learned,” Prosecutor Ted Adams said. They want to employ what they’ve learned, and, by gosh, I’ve made myself available to do that.”

Adams said officers also are doing more follow-up investigations to make sure necessary evidence is there to file charges, and seeing those cases through to conviction.

“I don’t think crime is up. I think enforcement is up. …They are really motivated right now and I want them to be, so I am going to continue to run right with them,” he said.

Adams has signed more search warrants this year than in his first two years in office combined.

Most center around drugs, including burglaries related to supporting a drug habit.

“Most of our involvement right now is either drug-related or drugs themselves,” he said. “We are crawling out of a hole created by just the tremendous number of investigations.”

Southerland said the county is seeing more cases involving heroin than methamphetamine, but “meth is still there; it’s still bad.”

He said in general, calls for police assistance also have increased, and that has contributed to the increase in case reports, too.

“A lot of times it’s, ‘There’s not really a crime here, but we’re going to document this so that if something develops in the future, that may be important to go back and have a record of it ever happening,’” he said.

Jail bookings are up slightly. From 2014 to 2016, they’ve increased by 12 percent.

“Frequent flyers,” or repeat offenders, make up a large portion of cases, Adams said.

He estimated 95 percent of criminal cases end in a plea deal instead of a trial, and that 70 percent of criminal cases are appointed public defenders. That percentage of cases being handled by public defenders is high, he said, but it’s in line with the area’s poverty rate.

A larger amount of cases coming through the system also has an effect on those public defenders, who can be handling up to 100 cases at one time for much less pay than an attorney would normally get, Brown County Commissioner Diana Biddle said.

The commissioners are now talking about offering public defenders some benefits that county employees get, such as health insurance, to help compensate them more and keep them around, she said.

The sheriff’s department and Nashville Police Department also are seeking more manpower.

Southerland plans to apply for a COPS grant that will pay for the salary and benefits of one additional officer for three years, up to $125,000 total.

“It’s a little scary that sometimes, when you factor in training and vacation, you have one person out there in the county,” he said about sheriff’s department staffing. Most of the time at least two officers are on duty, he said.

“Most disturbing” to him is the increase he’s seen in resisting arrest cases, which have risen by 90.9 percent from 2014 to 2016. That’s another reason he shared with the county commissioners for why the sheriff’s department could use another officer.

“Unfortunately, I don’t see crime rates going down,” he said about future trends.

Nashville Police Chief Ben Seastrom said crime in town is “steady.” Thefts, domestic violence, fraud, shoplifting, drug possession and drug use are the main crimes town officers are responding to, he said.

The town police department is down one full-time officer and two part-time officers who left to take jobs elsewhere, so Seastrom and Assistant Chief Tim True are having to cover more shifts.

But that doesn’t mean they want the calls to slow down.

“We really need the people in our community to call us. If they don’t let us know what’s going on right away, we can’t help them a week down the road,” Seastrom said.

“We all live in the community, so we all want our community to be safe,” Adams said.

Nashville Police Department turnover

The Nashville Police Department is looking to hire one full-time officer and two part-time officers this year.

Officers Matt Hatchett and Kyle Seward recently left to take jobs with Monroe County and the Indiana State Police.

“It’s been a constant problem ever since I started here. What it is is that we are stepping stones for a larger department,” Chief Ben Seastrom said.

Compared to other area departments — including the local sheriff’s department — the police department has lower pay and “our benefits don’t mirror everyone around us,” Seastrom said.

“They get the police academy, they work whatever minimum amount of time they need to get into an application process at some other agency and then leave,” he said.

Seastrom hires about two new officers every three years.

Not having enough officers to cover shifts means the department is paying more in overtime, too.

“It stresses the guys out. They can’t take time off. They can get more money by working overtime, but that’s less time at home with their families,” Seastrom said.

The remedy for the staffing turnover would be more money and better benefits, he said.

Last year, the town council rejected a request from Seastrom to enter officers into a different retirement program and help “buy back” years of service from veteran officers so that they could receive full credit for them in the new program.

Seastrom said people in the police department also work side jobs to earn extra money. “That’s just part of police work. We always work two or three jobs. We always have here,” he said.

“The good part is we are slowly building the department back with good people who want to be here,” he said.

“I like these guys that left — they’re good people — but they are young. They are looking for the end result. The current guys that we have are going to be here for a while, have been here for a while; we know what the end result is. We’ve based our lives around what we make, and we’re comfortable.”

Resisting arrest cases up

From 2014 to 2016, cases of resisting law enforcement have increased by 90.9 percent, Sheriff Scott Southerland said.

As of June 2017, the department has had seven resisting cases, including running from police on foot or in a vehicle and fighting police.

Last year at the same time, the department had eight resisting cases. The total was 21 at the end of 2016.

Southerland said the increase is due to a “societal issue” and a lack of respect for law enforcement.

“What we always think about when somebody runs is, ‘Did they just kill somebody?’ That’s really stupid to run, because they almost never get away, so it must have been something pretty bad,” Southerland said.

He said “a lot” of resisting law enforcement cases are because of drugs. Others may be because a person has a warrant or a suspended driver’s license.

Nashville Police Chief Ben Seastrom said a lack of understanding and fear also may lead to people resisting.

“For whatever reason, their body doesn’t allow them to stop, but they have it in their mind that they just refuse to cooperate,” Seastrom said.

“I don’t know what the mentality is with that. I don’t know if they think the end result is going to be, ‘Oh, I’m only going to get a certain amount of time in jail and I can go ahead and do whatever,’ or they just don’t care.”

Since Nashville officers have begun carrying stun guns, resisting arrest cases involving fights with officers have decreased, Seastrom said.

“It can be an issue for the offender because it adds more charges,” he said about resisting arrest. “It can lead to someone being hurt on either side.

“Our goal isn’t to come to work and hurt somebody. … That’s not my goal at all.”

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Suzannah Couch grew up in Brown County, reading the Brown County Democrat. A 2013 Franklin College graduate, she covers business, cops/courts, education and arts/entertainment.