Marquette County now leads the state in felony meth cases; police left frustrated

Marquette County leads the state in felony meth cases based on population. That is overwhelming an already backed up justice system.
This is a recording of the TV6 Early News.
Published: Nov. 9, 2021 at 11:55 AM EST
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This is the first part of a two-piece series on an increase in crime in Marquette County. You can read or watch part two here.

MARQUETTE COUNTY, Mich. (WLUC) - A significant increase in serious crime is putting strain on Marquette County’s law enforcement.

Marquette is known for its laidback lifestyle, great summer and winter activities, but a key driver in the crime spike is meth.

According to the Marquette County Prosecutor, Marquette County now leads the state in felony meth cases based on population. That is overwhelming an already backed up justice system.

“The real bane of our existence here has been the methamphetamine,” said Matt Wiese, Marquette County Prosecutor.

Wiese says the heart of the county’s meth problem is in Ishpeming. Despite having just nine percent of the county’s population, it leads the county in meth arrests.

Officers in Ishpeming are frustrated. They are sometimes re-arresting the same person within days.

“Within a week there are certain people that we re-arrest over and over again. It doesn’t seem too take long,” said Steve Snowaert, Ishpeming Chief of Police. “They are not changing their behaviors.”

Ishpeming has just 11 sworn officers on its staff and much of their time is being spent on meth cases.

“We’re probably a half hour away from Marquette when we have to arrest somebody,” said Snowaert. “So that’s a good hour that somebody is leaving the city.”

Part of the problem facing police is that many accused felons are getting out of jail.

“Sadly, most of the people that are charged with these meth charges are let out of jail because we are trying to get our jail population down because of COVID,” said Wiese. “Then, they go back to meth so many of the offenders have multiple felony cases.”

With a jail that is nearing capacity, a plan is in place to keep it from getting overwhelmed.

“When we get to 80, we have a jail management plan where we get a hold of the Circuit Court Judge (Jennifer) Mazzuchi and my jail administrator and we have to decide who we are going to let out,” said Greg Zyburt, Marquette County Sheriff.

Right now, 85 percent of the jail’s population are charged with felonies, but staff try to let out people who won’t be violent in the community.

In the last five years, Marquette has seen a more than 1000 percent increase in felony meth charges. In 2016, Marquette County had 27 felony meth cases. This year, that number is already up to 303. Meaning meth is the driving force behind felony cases more than doubling over the last five years.

“They’re either going to die, or they’re going to end up behind bars,” said Weise. “That’s the end results of being on methamphetamine and it’s tragic.”

Wiese says he is not seeing many meth labs in our small communities anymore. Instead, the inexpensive street drug is largely being brought to the area by cartels.

“We have a great community and you go around town to the beautiful places we have, that’s not where you are going to find meth. You’re not going to find meth on college campuses,” said Wiese. “It’s the end stage of addiction for most people and it’s all in dark cracks and crevasses of the county. It’s really devastating to a lot of families and a lot of children are impacted.”

Wiese says even without meth arrests, the area’s felony cases are still significantly higher than they were five years ago. Crimes like domestic violence are also up. However, it’s meth crimes that are leading to high re-arrest levels.

“The person making the arrest is making multiple arrests of the same person,” said Zyburt. “It makes it very frustrating for that officer.”

Leaving those protecting us, increasingly frustrated.

You can watch or read part two here.

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