EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- The state's top law enforcement officer was told Friday the overall crime rate in the City of Eau Claire is at an 11-year high. This statistic was mentioned during a roundtable discussion with Wisconsin attorney general Brad Schimel held at the Eau Claire County Jail.
The information was part of the department’s annual report, which was recently released. It shows a total of 2,768 crimes committed last year – a figure which hasn’t eclipsed 2,500 since 2006.
One area which saw increases across the board – crimes related to drugs. Eau Claire Police reported making 1,264 drug arrests in 2017 – a 17% increase from the 1,079 made in 2016.
Eau Claire Police Chief Jerry Staniszewski shared the crime rate stat with those in attendance and said that figure is a 35 percent increase over the last five years. He said the impact and the types of crimes being committed is connected to a rising substance abuse problem.
"You talk about lowering the quality of life and that safety rating at the city's having. So, that's where I feel the concern is,” Staniszewski said. “Now we're getting to one of those root causes of the problem, but it really does impact everybody in the community, which I think shows the priority that we placed on it and the tremendous strides that we've made – and we have to continue doing that."
The stop for Schimel was part of a series of talks with local officials about public safety within the state's 72 counties, but he said sobering statements like the one Staniszewski said Friday keep the greater picture in focus.
“It remains a safe place, because we are managing the violent criminals,” Schimel said to WEAU 13 News after the roundtable. “We catch them, we lock them up … but ultimately, what I say to the members of public – ‘This can happen to your family, too.’”
The Eau Claire County appearance was dominated by a drug Schimel has told his staff in Madison about and he used a 1980's comedy to describe the problem.
"I've been telling them 'You guys think this is as bad as it can get.’ It's like from the movie 'Spinal Tap,' there's one louder – and it's methamphetamine," he said.
Along with arrests and prosecutions, discussion also touched on other ways eau claire county is trying to ease its criminal burden.
"Looking at pre-trial and what we do in that section, I think that's a huge area that we can focus replicating what we doing in the treatment courts, but on that front end without having to have the heavy focus of the judge in front of these people," Tiana Glenna, criminal justice manager for Eau Claire County, said.
With all that’s being done at the local level, Schimel said one takeaway he has after his stop in Eau Claire County on Friday is that there's hope.
"There are tens of thousands of people in Wisconsin that are in recovery from substance abuse disorder,” he said. “Anybody out there could be one of them and we want to help. We want to get you to be one of those people in recovery and support them through it."