SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KSFY) - Attn. Gen. Marty Jackley, along with law enforcement officials from across the state, announced "Project Stand Up" on Thursday, which allows citizens to anonymously report drug use and crimes.
"This is one of the real opportunities that we have in South Dakota to make a difference," Jackley explained. "Our hope is that the public embraces and is welcoming in giving the information that we need to better protect the communities."
Starting Thursday, South Dakotans can anonymously text "DRUGS" to 82257, to report drug use or distribution to law enforcement. Jackley said the software the state is using filters out phone numbers so law enforcement will never even see who's doing the texting.
"It goes to that 3rd party software, it’s what we call 'SCRUB,' it remains anonymous and that information goes directly to the local law enforcement that can make a difference and react on it," he explained.
Once someone texts in, the software will ask the texter questions.
"The questions that we get information from are being asked through the interaction on the text. It’ll remain anonymous so that law enforcement is able to move forward and make a judgment call on whether this is information we do a follow up investigation on or really compile the information we already have so that the law enforcement in the area can do its job of addressing the concern," Jackley said.
The program is funded wholly by Sanford, not taxpayers, who Jackley said has generously funded the software used by the program for the next several years, which costs between $12-15,000 annually, depending on the number of texts the line receives.
Sanford public affairs said they were able to fund the program through in-kind donations and other marketing projects and is also providing brochures and other literature that will be provided to schools and communities across the state.
Former Sioux Falls Police Chief Doug Barthel who now works for Sanford Health said they're hoping this program will help area hospitals cut down of the number of people they treat for drugs as well as for patients who have to wait for resources to become available.
"Well, there’s no question drug abuse has an impact on healthcare we see it in the emergency department probably on a daily basis," Barthel said. "Frankly a lot of those people who come through the door don’t have health insurance, don’t have coverage. We’re still stuck with those costs, with those expenses, [and] unfortunately someone has to help pay for that so then it can filter down to other people that do have insurance or are out paying their bills."
On top of that, Minnehaha County State's Attorney Aaron McGowan said, there are other costs associated with a drug and opioid epidemic.
"It's costing our communities in loss of property, when you look at all the crimes propelled by methamphetamine," McGowan said. "Our robberies, our burglaries, identity theft, car burglaries. We’ve seen an increase guns stolen out vehicles and found in the hands of drugs dealers."
"These crimes against our community, against our families, against our children, are propelled this horrible drug and by the nature of that addiction," McGowan explained.
"So this is another tool that we can use," he said. "We need to get rid of meth in this community. We will not be safe until we do, it’s causing massive problems it is propelling our crime out of control to a level we can’t sustain at our current staffing at our law enforcement agencies."
McGowan said the State's Attorney's office currently has more 13,400 open adult criminal cases right now and that their case load is up 17 percent from last year.
Minnehaha County Sheriff Mike Milstead said drug use in the area is still a growing epidemic.
"I’ve sounded like a broken record for a couple years now on meth in our community and the dangers that it's posing," Milstead said. "Much of our crime in Sioux Falls and Minnehaha County is driven and drug-propelled by drugs like methamphetamine, we have heroin in our community, fentanyl, the opioids and it’s a significant, serious issue and this a huge step for adding another capability for people who want to report someone who’s involved in the use or in particular, the distribution of these dangerous drugs."
Milstead said the good news, is that arrests in Minnehaha County are up 60 percent in the first four months of the year since last year, so the programs offered in Sioux Falls are working to combat crime.
While law enforcement is working hard to stop crime in our area, Sioux Falls Police Chief Matt Burns said, it's important people actually use the text line to report crime, or else it doesn't work for anyone.
"Any tool we can get to help us in that battle ... is important but it really depends on citizen involvement," Burns explained. "Use this system help us, help you rid our community of this problem. It's gonna take us all.
"This is not just a law enforcement problem at the local, county or state level, it's gonna take everybody to really get involved whether it' this piece whether its through the traditional means. Just get involved."
To report an anonymous tip about a drug crime, just text "DRUGS" to 82257.