Mental health, meth numbers overwhelming Butte Co. sheriff

BELLE FOURCHE — Butte County Sheriff Fred Lamphere visited the Belle Fourche School Board’s Jan. 13 meeting and gave an update about county crime statistics.

During the presentation he said the number of mental health and methamphetamine use cases are skyrocketing.

Lamphere, who began his law enforcement career as a Belle Fourche police officer 30 years and has been the sheriff in Butte County for the last 18 years, said it’s been a busy year for him and his deputies.

Mental health calls are on the rise, Lamphere said.

“We’ve probably made more trips to Yankton (to the state mental health hospital) in the last two years than we did in the first 16 years I was sheriff combined,” he said. “We need more resources out here (West River).”

Another frightening trend Lamphere shared was the continual rise in drug abuse, especially methamphetamine.

“We had five (meth) overdose deaths in 2019, and we’re kind of still on the fence on a couple we’re waiting for the toxicology results back,” he said. “That don’t seem like a lot (when compared to nationwide numbers), but for Butte County, that’s a lot. I’ve never seen that number or seen drugs as bad as they are in all of my career as we’re seeing right now.”

Lamphere said that 87% of the crimes that people are incarcerated for in the state are related to drug and alcohol abuse. 

“And many of the mental health calls are drug related and tied to drug use,” he added.

Where the methamphetamine originates is alarming as well, Lamphere said.

“Over 97% of the methamphetamine that’s in the United States illegally is all made, manufactured, and sent here from Mexico,” he said. “So even our meth that we’re getting here is all cartel meth. This meth is just getting pumped in here by the truckload. It’s a real problem.”

With himself and four deputies in the department, Lamphere said they’ve got a full plate handling the level of calls they take. 

“We’ve found a fairly good management level,” he said. 

It is difficult to recoup the funds expended on the amount and types of calls the sheriff’s office handles and that number continues to grow. In 2002, when Lamphere began his career at the sheriff’s office, his office collected $12,500 back from civil fees, mileage fees, distress warrant fees, 24/7 fees, etc. But by 2017, that number skyrocketed to $75,192.55. And in 2019, it was $77,287.24.

“That’s a lot of work and that’s a lot of administrative work and it’s part of the civil process,” Lamphere said, explaining that fees are charged to debtors involved with different types of civil services they’re involved in.

“Belle Fourche historically held about 50% of the population of Butte County and the rest of the county holds the other 50%,” Lamphere said. “We contract with the city of Newell, Fruitdale, and Nisland.”

He said that although there is no contract with the town of Vale, his officers do respond to calls when needed. 

In 2019, the Butte County Sheriff’s Office handled the following tasks: 37,914 assists; 142 citations issues; 430 warnings issued; 96 domestic calls; 142 protection order hearings; 181 accidents responded to; 136 arrests; 132 warrants served; 64 mental health calls requiring 330.5 officer hours (only in the last eight months of 2019); 185 dog complaints; 202 livestock calls; 102 wildlife calls; 1,499 civil documents served; 88 distress warrants worked; 571 prisoners transported; 34,983 miles traveled on transports; and 172,929 total miles driven by sheriff staff.

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