On Monday night, Beatrice Police Chief Bruce Lang delivered the police department’s annual report to the Beatrice City Council.
According to the report, calls for service were down by more than 1,000 in 2017, while arrests for drugs were up more than double over the last 10 years, but alcohol-related arrests were down by more than half.
Drug-related arrests and offenses had skyrocketed over the last few years, Lang said, having more than doubled from 76 in 2008 to 201 in 2017. That number includes 60 arrests for possession of less than one ounce of marijuana; 68 counts of possession of drug paraphernalia; 55 arrests for possession of controlled substances; six arrests for drugs/narcotics and other violations; two for the manufacture of drugs with intent to distribute; and 10 arrests for possession with intent to distribute.
Lang credited the increase to a greater emphasis being placed on illegal drugs. In 2017, the department assigned one officer to focus primarily on drug enforcement, and BPD has been working with the Gage County Sheriff’s Office and Nebraska State Patrol to arrest and convict drug dealers around the area.
Calls for service were down by over 1,000 last year, from 27,564 in 2016 to 26,278 in 2017. Those calls were distributed among the multiple agencies covered by the dispatch center. Out of the total 26,278 calls last year, the Beatrice Police Department was dispatched on 11,176 calls, down from 12,607 in 2016.
Mayor Stan Wirth asked Lang about an uptick in arrests for child abuse and neglect, saying the numbers—22 in 2016 and 35 in 2017—were concerning.
One of the anomalies of police work is that, as society changes its view of something, the numbers of arrests go up, Lang said. It’s not necessarily that there are more cases of children being abused or neglected, he said, it’s that people are beginning to be much more likely to report suspicious activity involving children than they might have been 10 or 15 years ago. School and daycare officials call the department’s youth services officer whenever they see something out of the ordinary, he said.
Councilman Phil Cook commented on alcohol arrests, noting that they’ve dropped from 352 arrests in 2008 to only 125 in 2017, asking if it was due to more awareness of the issue or if it was a push toward more drug-related arrests.
“We don't really know what the causal factor is,” Lang said. “Whether it's a combination of heavy enforcement before, the word's out and we want that word out there that if we find you drunk driving, you're going to jail. You're not going to pass go, you're going to jail.”
With events like the school shooting that happened in Florida last week, councilman Rich Kerr asked Lang how the department is prepared for the possibility of a similar situation in local schools.
Beatrice Public Schools have been pretty progressive in their safety preparedness, Lang said. Both Beatrice High School and Beatrice Middle School have a school resource officer assigned to them, Lang said. To enter the elementary schools around town requires being buzzed into the front doors. The front entrances to the high school and middle school are secured as well, he said.
The schools have an annual routine in which they work on different contingency plans, he said. They have a community-wide safety committee that looks over their safety policies and hire an outside firm to do an audit of them.
The schools are as safe as they can reasonably be, Lang said. But, no matter how safe they may be, it would be hard to stop someone determined to cause destruction.
“So, can a tragedy occur here?” Lang asked. “Yes. Do our officers train for that? Yes. Do the school officials practice the different lock outs and lock downs and so forth? Absolutely.”
Lang also said that Lt. Mike Oliver, who is in charge of the department’s investigations unit, suffered a brain injury as the result of an illness. Oliver is in rehab, Lang said, and the department is hoping for his speedy recovery.
In the meantime, Sgt. Jay Murphy has been assigned double duty, Lang said, working a patrol shift as well as managing the investigations function.
“I want to close by thanking you,” Lang told the council. “My colleagues across the state and across the country, not every community has a forward thinking mayor and council like we enjoy here. Not just with this council, but the ones that preceded you.”