Obstruction, drug abuse are fastest growing charges for prosecution

By: 
Ryan Lewis, Editor

Substance abuse and obstructing justice are the two areas of crime that have seen the biggest increases for Allegan County.

Allegan County Prosecuting Attorney Myrene Koch, presenting her office’s 2017 annual report last week to Allegan County commissioners, said the largest category of concern were those felony obstruction of justice charges.

“That has increased approximately 115 percent since 2010,” Koch said. “That includes things such as fleeing and eluding the police, absconding—which means they didn’t show up to court, absconded on their bond and took off—witness intimidation, and resisting and obstructing the police.”

That breaks down to 49 felony obstruction charges in 2010 rising to 115 in 2017.

Substance abuse charges have been authorized 60.9 percent more than they were in 2010, rising from 335 then to 539 last year.

By comparison, larceny, fraud and identity theft cases have increased only 15 percent.

“Overall, the number of felonies have increased 43.7 percent,” Koch said. “So, our numbers are continually going up.”

That is all, she said, considered with the backdrop of the county’s quickly expanding population. She noted the county had 90,509 people in 1990, 111,408 in 2010 and an estimated 116,000 in 2017.

She said the county’s nine prosecutors were often not enough to cover the office’s many responsibilities.

“(We hope) you understand how much this takes to run this office, as far as making sure all the courts are covered, the cases are well taken care of and we do everything we need to protect the citizens of Allegan County, and to do all of those things, we have to be serviceable where we have enough people,” she said.

She also highlighted that drug felonies have risen dramatically, from 498 in 2016 to 538 last year.

“We do see issues with regard to methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, opioids and (a small percentage of) marijuana in some respects,” Koch said. “Primarily it’s methamphetamine and opioids.”

While the county’s rising population was bound to drive up many statistics for Allegan County, she said substance abuse had a ripple effect and caused more crime.

“Many users may break in to a place to steal or do other things,” she said. “When you see high substance abuse numbers, you typically see more assault. It goes hand in hand and becomes a chain reaction.”

The largest group of misdemeanors the prosecutor’s office sees is drunk driving, specifically operating while impaired.

“In 2017, out of 651 cases of drunk driving, we had over 78 percent—or 510 of those cases—of those charged with that actually pleaded straight to that (OWI) or to a one-step decrease to impaired driving. That still means they had license sanctions, fines, costs, probation, jail and treatment,” Koch said. “All of those cases are being treated very, very seriously.”

The lowest number of those misdemeanors in the last decade occurred in 2010, with 472 charges. It has stayed somewhat level since 2014, which had 638 charged.

She also highlighted the number of requests for domestic violence charges, which has steadily increased since 2014; there were 623 requests then and 819 in 2017.

“One of the things we know from statistics with regard to domestic violence,” she said, “Even though there are resources and shelter and treatment and other availability for victims, it is estimated nationwide—and this percentage does fall true for Allegan County as well—only 50 percent of those who are a victim of domestic violence ever report it as a crime. Most who go into Sylvia’s Place, the county’s domestic violence shelter, most will not report the crimes happening to them.”

Overall, in 2017, the office reviewed 4,827 adult criminal warrant requests, an increase of 519 over 2016.

Koch praised the court’s many diversion programs as well as the county’s two previous prosecuting attorneys. She said longtime prosecutor Fred Anderson and current Judge Roberts Kengis—who served most of 2017 as prosecutor before being appointed to the circuit court—had been great mentors.

Contact Ryan Lewis at rmlewis@allegannews.com or (269) 673-5534.

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