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The La Crosse County District Attorney’s Office filed 1,184 felony cases last year, up 21 percent from 2016 and the highest volume of cases in 22 years.

A total of 2,030 individual felony charges were filed in 2017, an increase of 20 percent from the year before, according to the DA’s office.

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Tim Gruenke

Gruenke

“Most of them are not violent felonies,” District Attorney Tim Gruenke said. “Most of them are non-violent ... like bail jumping and extradition cases.”

In each of the past five years, felony bail jumping charges — filed when a defendant commits a crime while on bond or violates a condition of release — account for about 20 percent of charges. There were 385 felony bail jumping charges filed last year, up from 264 in 2013.

A rising number of felony drug possession cases — even the smallest amount of methamphetamine and heroin is a felony — means more defendants are in the community on bond and any additional crime they commit generates a new felony charge.

A majority of bail jumping cases are for defendants who committed a new crime while on bond and not for violating conditions of their release, Gruenke said.

“It’s frustrating when people are released and they are committing more crimes and not abiding by bond,” he said. “We, as a system, have to do a better job of looking at who is being released on bond and whether we are releasing the right people.”

Prosecutors filed 284 methamphetamine possession and delivery charges in 2017, up 16 percent from the year before and an increase of 187 percent from 2013.

Charges for possessing and delivering heroin and prescription drugs climbed to 115 last year, an increase of 34 percent since 2013.

“Meth has taken over,” Gruenke said. “It’s the biggest drug problem we have.”

After a decline in 2016, burglary charges jumped 90 percent to 110 last year. Forgery charges were among the leading charges in each of the past five years.

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La Crosse police Capt. Jason Melby

Melby

“The drug issues within our community are one of the primary drivers of our property crimes, including burglary, theft and forgery,” La Crosse police Capt. Jason Melby said.

The community must continue to fight the meth, heroin and prescription drug epidemics while preparing for an influx of Fentanyl cases, Gruenke said.

“Addressing the opioid epidemic will have an impact,” Melby said. “But short of statutorily changing personal use possession, we’re going to continue to arrest them for felonies.”

At eight prosecutors, the district attorney’s office is understaffed by five positions, according to a statewide study. State legislators have rejected requests for funding more prosecutors every year since 2007.

“We try to be as efficient as we can and prioritize,” Gruenke said. “We’re doing the best we can.”

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Police and courts reporter

Anne Jungen covers law enforcement and the criminal justice system in La Crosse County. She joined the Tribune reporting staff in December 2005. You can contact her directly at ajungen@lacrossetribune.com or 608-791-8224.

(27) comments

Redwall

“Most of them are not violent felonies,” says the DA

But...

Burglaries are up 90% in one year. 90%.

If you cant feel safe in your own home, soft peddling "non violent" crimes doesnt seem honest. And if they are so "non violent" then why does the DA want the extra prosecutors he is requesting?

A 90% increase in burglaries and the Fibune leads the story by tackling bailjumping. And the bailjumping discussion avoids addressing the liberal judges practicing catch and release.

Simply ridiculous. And it explains a lot about why La Crosse is where it is.

El Duderino

A condition of any bail, whether it’s a felony or a misdemeanor, is “Shall not commit a crime”.

Say Joe Blow was originally arrested for a felony. As long as the case is unsettled/open, they’re bound by those bail conditions (which can include a ton of things; no contact with a certain person or not going to a particular location, absolute sobriety, not using the internet, etc.). Every original felony charge results in a new felony bail jumping charge, even if the new arrest is “petty”.

These (bail jumping charges) are generally used as bargaining chips by prosecutors and are, way more often than not, ultimately dismissed.

The DA’s office can’t make it a policy to ignore felonious charges, it’s a WI state statute. They have the discretion to examine the elements of the new offense and make a charging decision, but by then the person has been booked and is awaiting another appearance...a.k.a. more time in our PSB and more resources down the drain.

Jobaba

There is no question that our current drug epidemic contributes to the problem. Yet it could also be that every crime in Wisconsin is a felony. Elevating every single act to a felony is a distinct lack of problem solving skill, just like raising taxes for every perceived problem in Wisconsin.

You don't know me

So Cassandra I think you’are missing the point here, is the fact that the DA office is understaffed be five positions!!! Have you ever worked in an understaffed office? Much less one where you have to be out of the office in a court room and represent someone without having good time to completely understand a case, who your representing, and let’s remember these drug charges and felonies aren’t just the only cases the office has to handle. They have time restrictions as to prosecute in a timely manner, pressure makes and creates time restraints. Yellow bee doesn’t need to be bullied for their opinion and your assumptions of what they know or don’t! But each drug case and felony charge has due process done even if it doesn’t go to trial because the amount of plea deals in which one pleas to be guilty for a lesser charge of followed conditions and that’s your “fair process” which can I.clude each of what Yellowbee suggested... madmen60 did you mean to say “these people are not employed. you can/can’t? Expect them to test everyday at their expense. “ I feel like you aren’t employed and if you have ALL that time to look for a job but aren’t doing that or maybe you are then on your rounds you can swing through and pee in a cup each day. Did they need money to spend on drugs? Then how about instead of the tax payers paying for those free needles, narcon shots, needle pick up from around our city, and the countless times EMT and hospitals ICUS are run with people who over does and worse yet die... maybe holding that person responsible for their own choice to do it solidifies acceptance of a problem... because I come at things realistically and with a solution... how about they cut out one or two beavages a day and ask for a glass of water? That soda $1-2/each $1-4 saved a day, $2/7 cup of coffee that’s $2-14/Day saved, cigarettes,$6-10/day divide by 20 cigarettes in a pack, can be broken down to $6-10/pack divided by #cigs in the pack= cost of each cig. Multiple that by (# of cigs you STOP/CUT smoke in a day) =what you saved for the day! Just need a budget and resources, call 211. People must be held accountable for their own stuff or the rest of us pay! Or maybe it like a sliding fee scale when your unemployed and no matter what you pay $1 or $3 to go each time and comply with a number of work searches per day?! Remember those people who have to staff the place get paid, the lights have to be on and water running for you to pee, people who make the cups and labels, process the test results, entertain those who can’t say no to drugs because they are busy doing drugs .... this solution occupies their time, keeps them accountable and then when you get a job helps them stay on track cuz they can’t come up dirty or it’s one of these problems felony to coolant the term of yellow bees idea of probation or detox where they are voluntary there and no one holds them accountable, then go to serve time in jail or prison where they seem to have more drugs available, and community service so they hang out to do at places like the recovery centers w other users and then then end up back I. That circle... IDEA: PEOPLE IN THE PROGRAM TOGETHER SHOULD NOT FORM RELATIONSHIPS WITH OTHER USERSWithout consent of counselors, support thru other avenues, intervention is needed unfortunately it’s gone tofar!!

Heading should be: Critically understaffed DA office causes La Crosse County is compromising sentences on increased # of felony, heroin and meth charges: possible cause unsuitable plea deals creating a cycle for the epidemic and waste of city funds!

Cassandra

I understand that the office is understaffed and that problem should be remedied. I was simply asking a question to fill in for the incomplete reporting in the article. The question is whether there are actually more bail jumping cases or if there are simply more charges pursued than in the past.
As to the Bee, that poster has made numerous comments in these forums that advocate skipping over due process and favor summary punishment and prison violence. That is a clear violation of the rights of the accused. Bee needs to understand that we don't operate that way in the US. Iran or Russia may be a better fit.

BichonFrise

Well maybe we should operate like them. Maybe that would solve some of the problems with the drug issues. Making those on paper that have to have a UA or blow clean have to pay for those services might give those the impotence to stay clean!!

Cassandra

Impotence?

BichonFrise

I happen to agree with Bee....he/she makes some very good points.

BichonFrise

Hey Cass where in the article does it says "due process" I have read it twice and can't find "due process" at all.

Cassandra

You also clearly don't understand the Constitutional rights guaranteed to all citizens, including those accused or even convicted of crimes. Perhaps you need a remedial civics class.

Rick Czeczok

And you know the constitution, don't you. It allow you to slander and insult people while hiding behind a fake name, misleading gender. You're a sad person seek help.

Cassandra

Yes, Czkckzkyzkzz, I do know the Constitution. Once again, you can't dispute the facts, so turn to distraction using another ruse to attack me on a subject you know nothing about.
What happened to your promise to cancel your subscription and leave the pages?

El Duderino

I would add non-OWI related Operating After Revocation and resisting/obstructing offenses to the list that can stay in municipal court. Furthermore, if a warrant is from an adjoining county, mandate the agencies meet half way for a prisoner exchange. If the outside agency is unwilling, then kick ‘em loose!

Keep them the hell out of our PSB in the first place.

El Duderino

I would suggest the DA’s office should partner with local municipalities to encourage them to keep as many cases in their municipal courts as possible. Reserve our circuit court resources for serious crimes or statutorily mandated arrests.

The Madison suburb Monona, for example, recently changed their local ordinance concerning cannabis. Anyone 21 or older in possession of 25 grams or less is completely except from any civil forfeitures or criminal charges (assuming it’s consumed/possessed in a private residence).

Retail thefts, non-domestic batteries/DC, criminal damage to property, etc., belong in municipal courts. It’s still technically an arrest, it’s just a “catch-and-release” without the opportunity for all these subsequent bail jumping charges and the penalties are monetary.

I don’t know what La Crosse County’s policy on warrant arrests from other counties is. Many counties only arrest low level warrants if the issuing county is connected geographically. I’d definitely like to see that implemented if it’s not already.

Understaffing is not unique to La Crosse County, by the way. Unless they can provide proof of severe indigence, start charging the incarcerated a fee for their healthcare, medications, meals, and housing. This can be accomplished through tax return intercepts. There are plenty out there that somehow receive a tax return and don’t work at all, so save that argument.

Cassandra

The article doesn't make it clear whether there are actually more cases of bail jumping, etc., or if there are just more prosecutions.

laxlax

The heading should say "Drugs, bail jumping and ridiculously low bonds......"

YellowBee

Well send them to a place to detox them and them make them service either jail or prison time ...when they get out make them have community service...and either UA them or make them blow every single day at their expense.

madmen60

These people are not employed. You can't expect them to test every day at their expense.

Cassandra

Once again, Bee, you've skipped over the part known as "due process" where people actually have to face trial and be convicted before punishment is meted out.
As I suggested elsewhere, given your clear lack of understanding of the law, perhaps you should shut up.

SophiaBelle

Pipe down, Ms. Cassandra. I interpreted Bee's comment to read that there had already been an assumption of either a trial or sentencing. So, I suggest, given your clear lack of understanding of the implied, perhaps you should shut up.

Rick Czeczok

Cassy is mixed up, you see her name is misleading as she, is a he. Forgive her (he) as she (he) is pretty messed up. He insults and attacks people to feel good about himself, but hides behind this ridiculous shield of a name to protect his silly @#$.

Cassandra

Bee has made numerous comments in favor of abrogating due process rights and advocating prison violence and summary execution. Anyone who supports that nonsense doesn't understand the Constitution.

Cassandra

Rick Czkzxkciz, you promised us that you were canceling your subscription and would no longer be posting to these forums.

BichonFrise

Honey remember everyone has a right to their opinion, right or wrong the first amendment gives us that. Where in this article does it explain due process? Maybe Bee doesn't know what that means. instead of tell him/her to shut up, explain it . Be a teacher not a hater.

Cassandra

Any adult American should have a basic understanding of the principle. If not, I blame deliberate ignorance, since any television police procedural show should've made the concept clear.

Rick Czeczok

Sir Cass (not miss), unfortunately for you it hasn't run out quite yet. You spelled my name wrong; how do you spell yours? Fake gender, fake name, I think that makes you a FAKE.

Cassandra

Czycyxyzk is a Russian agent a propaganda bot. There's proof. I seen it on the interwebs.

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