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.”
On Tuesday, the Salvation Army received a $2,000 donation to help maintain its Beatrice facility.
Neapco, which manufactures driveline components in Beatrice, handed a check for $2,000 to the Salvation Army as a part of their 5S Workplace program.
Standing for sort, straighten, shine, standardize and sustain, the 5S program is topped off each year with the 5S Excellence of the Year Award that gives employees who win the award the chance to donate to the charity of their choice.
“They call it the U-joint ranch,” manager Tim Fralin said of the winning team. “It's three huge machines that make a lot of large universal joints for vehicles like school buses and semis. It's a hard area to keep clean.”
In the past, winners have given their award winnings to the Veterans Memorial Park, the Gage County chapter of National Suicide Awareness, the Beatrice Community Food Pantry and the Beatrice Humane Society, but this year, the Salvation Army received the donation.
The Salvation Army helps a lot of people, said Randy Kite, who works on the U-joint line. Whether it’s providing holiday meals or other services to help the needy, they’re a necessary part of Beatrice. For Robert Rathman, who works on the same line, it’s a bit more personal.
“Myself, I just thought about my history with them,” he said. “They've always helped me out when I needed help. They'd give you free fans in the summer, food when you're hungry. They'll help you out. You need to do some community service, they'll make it easy on you.”
Salvation Army Lt. Joseph Irvine said that the money will do a lot of good for the community.
The $2,000 check will support the programs they already provide, keep the building running and keep the food pantry boxes full, Irvine said. They’ve also been looking to expand their utility assistance program, he said, and this donation will help a lot.
The first time he’d heard of the Neapco program, which started in 2014, was when he found out they’d won. He’s proud to be among a group of winners that help out Beatrice.
“We're among a good group of people that do a lot of good work,” Irvine said.
A Gage County man was arrested near Filley on Saturday night for his third offense of driving under the influence.
Robert Stefonovich, 57, was arrested Saturday on DUI charges after Gage County Sheriff’s Office officials say his blood alcohol content was recorded at .182. On Tuesday, his bond was set at $10,000 by the Gage County District Court.
A little after 6 p.m. on Saturday, Gage County Sheriff’s Office investigator Matthew Ernst was dispatched to the Filley One Stop for a report of a suspected drunk driver.
The clerk at the Filley One Stop said that the driver of a silver Toyota pickup had almost crashed upon turning into the driveway of the store.
The clerk claimed that the driver came into the store and was visibly intoxicated. The driver tried to purchase alcohol, but the clerk refused to sell to him due to his level of intoxication and the driver allegedly admitted to the clerk that he had been drinking.
The driver then left, heading west on Highway 136 prior to Ernst’s arrival.
Ernst said he spotted Stefonovich driving west on Highway 136 near S. 66th Road and turned around in an attempt to catch up to him. After catching up, Ernst said he saw the silver pickup drifting into the shoulder twice.
Ernst activated his overhead lights, but the driver did not immediately pull over. He continued driving, Ernst said, and drifted into the shoulder another two or three times before coming to a stop.
Upon contact, Ernst said he observed Stefonovich to have droopy, watery eyes and slow body movements. Stefonovich admitted to having consumed some beers earlier in the day.
Ernst asked Stefonovich to exit his vehicle, and when he did, the vehicle began rolling forward, indicating the truck was still in gear. Stefanovich had the odor of alcohol on his person, Ernst said, and he declined to perform field sobriety tests, saying that he’d had some previous injuries.
Stefonovich admitted to Ernst that he did not consider himself safe to be driving and described himself as “inebriated.” Stefonovich submitted to a preliminary breath test, which revealed a blood alcohol level of .182.
Stefanovich was arrested and taken to the Gage County Detention Center, where he was submitted to a Datamaster intoxilyzer test that recorded a .140 blood alcohol level.
The Gage County Sheriff’s Office said that Stefonovich had been convicted of DUI in 2007 and a second DUI in 2009.
The Beatrice City Council re-approved the city’s one and six-year road plan for the second time on Monday night.
No changes were made to the road plan for the re-approval, but the first public hearing hadn't been publicly announced in time for the council’s Feb. 5 meeting, so a second hearing was planned for Feb. 19.
No members of the public spoke on the road plan and no city council members had further questions, as the plan had been discussed two weeks previously.
“No changes have been made,” City Administrator Tobias Tempelmeyer said. “As we talked about last council meeting, the street projects haven't changed.”
The plan lays out a road map for upcoming street projects over the next few years. While the first two years outlined in the plan are pretty good indicators of where the city plans to go with construction, the following four years have some room to adjust what could be on the schedule in the future.
In 2018, the city has two concrete reconstruction projects scheduled for the summer, one on Bell Street from 10th to 12th streets, and the other is on Summit Street from Seventh to Ninth streets. It's estimated that both projects will cost a little over $300,000.
There are also mill and overlay projects scheduled on the truck route on Ella Street from Third to Sixth streets, and an asphalt project on the west side of Beatrice in a redevelopment project that will be paid for using Tax Increment Financing.
Highway 77 will be the big project for 2018, stretching from Industrial Row and running all the way to Pickrell. The city’s responsibility stops at the corner of Hickory Road, and all of the construction will be performed by the state. The construction on Highway 77 is designed, bid out and managed by the Nebraska Department of Transportation, and the city will pay the bill for the work performed.
“I think the Bell Street and Summit Street are about 90 percent complete and we're about to go out to bid here shortly,” Tempelmeyer said. “We've got bids on the mill and overlay project which you guys approved here the last council meeting, so that's taken care of. Other than that, there have been no changes to the proposed one and six-year plan.”
The road plan was approved by the council unanimously for the second time.