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2019 was a year of major changes for the Rock County Sheriff’s Office as detailed by the annual report released by the department.

JANESVILLE — Last year was one of generational change at the Rock County Sheriff’s Office as a wave of new hires came on board and new policies came into effect, according to Sheriff Troy Knudson.

Knudson released the sheriff office’s annual report that details operations at the department and examines yearly crime data for Rock County.

In terms of hiring, 36 new staff were brought on amid promotions and training of more than half of the department’s command staff—more than 20% of the department’s staff.

“This was a large hurdle that we overcame,” Knudson said.

Three corrections supervisors were added that expanded potential career progression options for jail staff.

For diversity hiring, about one in four staff members at the sheriff’s office is a minority, Knudson added.

At the jail, the sheriff’s office started implementing accreditation standards after contracting Lexical to update correctional services policy guidelines. For corrections staff, the officer wellness program and community engagement strategies were improved.

Within the jail, mental health resources and re-entry services were added in 2019, along with medication-assisted treatment for substance misuse issues for those exiting jail with the Vivitrol program. The medication is aimed at preventing relapses for those who suffer from opioid dependence and assists in the detox process.

In conjunction with the bench of Rock County Circuit Court, arrest warrant commitments were turned over to collections instead of using jail as an avenue to resolve unpaid fines.

Calls for service for the sheriff’s office were up slightly as 22,850 calls were reported in 2019 compared to 22,545 in 2018.

Forty-one percent of all calls for service in 2019 included assisting other jurisdictions; business checks, abandoned 911 calls; and traffic-related complaints, the report shows.

Violent crimes accounted for less than 0.5% of all calls in 2019, while property crimes accounted for 2% of all calls.

In line with FBI uniform crime reporting (UCR) data, violent crimes tracked by the sheriff’s office include murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault.

In 2019, 54 violent crimes were reported, including: zero murders, 15 rape cases, four robberies and 35 aggravated assaults.

The 2019 violent crime numbers show aggravated assaults increased from 2018 by 19; robberies increased by one incident; rapes were down one incident and murders were down by one, the report shows.

Overall, property crimes were down for 2019 in Rock County as 257 property crimes were reported compared to 374 in 2018. Across the board burglaries (59), thefts (17) and arsons (one) were lower than 2018 statistics.

Impaired driving arrests for 2019 were up by 44 incidents in 2019 as 386 impaired driving arrests were reported compared to 342 in 2018. Traffic accident reports were down in 2019 as 779 were reported compared to 840 in 2018, the report shows.

The sheriff’s office detective bureau cleared 73% of all cases (89 of 135 incidents) investigated in 2019, down slightly from 76% clearance in 2018. Since 2015, the department’s clearance rate has stayed above 70%, the report said.

The special investigations unit (SIU) made 46 drug arrests in 2019 that resulted in the seizure of 609 grams of powder cocaine; 180 grams of crack cocaine; 142 grams of methamphetamine; 9.5 grams of heroin and 14.76 pounds of cannabis.

Halfway through 2020, Knudson said the sheriff’s office would continue to remain vigilant in the prevention of COVID-19 in the Rock County jail. To date, no detainees or inmates at the jail have tested positive for the virus. Two corrections staff tested positive, but have since returned to work after recovering.

“We really had to work together as a team, taking suggestions from staff, the community and even inmates to ensure that we closed all avenues for that virus to enter our facility to the best of our ability,” Knudson said.

When the outbreak started in mid-March, the jail worked with Rock County judges to reduce the jail population for detainees held for nonviolent offenses. Movement of those inside the jail was restricted and any staff or detainees were quarantined for observation.

In the wave of nationwide protests against police brutality following the death of Black Americans while in police custody, Knudson said it was important now more than ever to engage with the community.

“It’s important that everyone in our community feels that they have a voice and that their concerns will be heard and that they will be addressed,” Knudson said.

Knudson added transparency was “essential” to gain public trust.

“We strive to be visible and available so that misunderstandings or minor concerns can be immediately resolved before they fester into more serious problems,” Knudson said. “We have found those relationships to be very valuable and I believe that those have contributed to the peacefulness of local protests.”