Meth stole Chris Stalheim’s life the first time he tried it.
Stalheim shared his story of a decades-long battle with using and dealing drugs in the Sioux Falls area at a meeting to discuss how crime is affecting the local economy with business leaders Monday morning.
Local business leaders, including realtors, a defense attorney and an addict, gathered downtown with Rep. Kristi Noem to air concerns about crime affecting their commnity and businesses.
It didn’t take long for the conversation to revolve around methamphetamine as a destructive force.
“Dealing drugs affects the rest of the community,” Stalheim said to the group of about 10. “It is such an issue.”
Local restaurant owners shared struggles of keeping qualified young workers. One has seen 16-year-olds who start out as hard-working employees start taking money from the register to feed a new drug habit.
“It’s really sad,” said Jennifer Kelly, owner of Fiero Pizza. “You have high schoolers working and two years later, they’re on the streets looking for drugs.”
Another said his business has been robbed a few times, which often scares away employees.
The group shifted its focus to solution suggestions. Most agreed more education, prevention and treatment are needed to help addicts.
“I’m all for education over incarceration,” Stalheim said. “If we throw an addict in jail, you’re not teaching them anything, except to hang out with criminals.”
Noem, a Republican candidate for governor, said she would like to see more education in middle schools.
A local defense attorney said he sees a gap in treatment and incarceration. Many first-time drug offenders are eligible for more treatment programs. He often doesn’t see a client again until they’re in crisis mode, a point where they’re usually sent to the penitentiary.
Other crimes he sees associated with addiction are assaults or thefts, said Ryan Kolbeck, a private personal injury and criminal defense attorney.
Crime in South Dakota has increased at a faster pace than surrounding states, Noem said. She has visited a few other towns throughout the state, such as Aberdeen, Watertown and Pierre, and has heard similar narratives of an increased meth presence, she said.
Sioux Falls Police Department released the 2017 crime statistics last week. Overall violent and property crime decreased last year, but the number of homicides and narcotics cases increased.
Sioux Falls hit double digits in homicides last year, the highest since seven homicides in 2006. But crime is expected to increase when population does, said Sioux Falls Police Chief Matt Burns last week.