The Marijuana Myth

This article was written by Kevin Thom, Sheriff of the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office in western South Dakota. 

With Colorado and Washington legalizing marijuana for personal use, and other states now permitting consumption of the drug for “medical” purposes, it makes sense to pose a key question: Is pot safe?

My answer is a resounding “No.”

Throughout my 36-year career in law enforcement, I have witnessed the often-devastating impacts of drug abuse from a front-row seat. The pro-marijuana lobby calls it a harmless plant. But statistics and experience tell us otherwise, and marijuana already has had a profound negative impact on society.


  • Fatal and serious injury accidents involving drivers high on marijuana increase in states that have medical or legalized marijuana. During the first six months of 2013, Washington State Troopers saw a 49 percent jump in positive tests for marijuana among drivers stopped for suspicion of DUI.
  • The U.S. Department of Justice reports that 50 percent of all on-the-job accidents and up to 40 percent of employee thefts are related to drug abuse.
  • Popular among youth, marijuana is a complicated, addictive drug that disrupts children’s brain development when used habitually. London’s Institute of Psychiatry estimated that at least 25,000 schizophrenics in the United Kingdom could have avoided the illness if they had not used cannabis.
  • Repeated marijuana use also adversely affects the lungs, liver, heart and reproductive organs.

Legalizing marijuana for “medicinal” use has so far been the most common policy step taken by states. There are marijuana derivatives used for legitimate medical treatment, based on scientific evidence. But most often the case for medical marijuana is rooted in anecdotal examples, not science.

And let’s be honest. For all their claims about wanting to use legalized weed to help the sick and dying, what the pro-pot folks really want is full legalization of their favorite drug. To get there they are spreading misinformation about its benefits and irresponsibly minimizing its risks.

Proponents also proclaim that legalizing marijuana can generate millions in tax revenue for government, a windfall many elected officials apparently find enticing. What they fail to acknowledge is this disturbing statistic: For every $1 in tax revenue generated by marijuana sales, it’s estimated that society will pay $10 to deal with the health impacts of marijuana use.

Marijuana supporters justify legalization by noting that two other potentially dangerous substances, alcohol and tobacco, are legal, so we shouldn’t fear adding weed to the list.

Alcohol kills 100,000 people annually, while tobacco kills another 500,000. Legal drugs are the largest contributors to health care costs in our country.

I am not suggesting we lock up every person who occasionally uses small amounts of marijuana. Jail alternatives, such as probation, community service or mandatory drug treatment, are appropriate for these offenders.

I understand that effective drug policy requires three core components: education/prevention, enforcement and treatment.

Proponents argue that legalizing marijuana would possibly reduce prices and thereby decrease criminal activity by users seeking to support their habit.

In fact, the black market for pot will not vanish, but bleed into other states. Already, black market marijuana from Colorado is turning up for sale in South Dakota.

Fortunately, those of us who call South Dakota home are not naive. And I’m confident that when our state is again asked to legalize marijuana for “medicinal” or personal use, we won’t fall for the smoke screen (intentional pun) perpetuated by those who foolishly claim it’s harmless for everyone to get high.


Prior to being elected to serve Pennington County in 2010, Sheriff Thom spent the prior 32 years serving in other South Dakota law enforcement agencies.  One of the agencies, the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation, gave the Sheriff many years of training and experience as a drug investigator.  He served as director of the agency for 3 1/2 years before retiring and preparing for the next phase of public service. 

Posted in General Posts, law enforcement, police | Tagged , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Gang members befuddled by new gun laws, seek legal weapons to kill each other with

This article comes to us from CNN with the dramatic headline:

Blame weak gun laws for holiday violence, Chicago’s top cop says

(CNN) — Chicago’s police superintendent lashed out at what he called lax state and federal gun laws after a violent Fourth of July weekend that saw more than 60 people shot and nine killed in a city already known for frequent shootings.

“There’s a greater sanction for the gang members to lose that firearm from their gang than there is to go to jail” for illegal gun possession, Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said after reciting the criminal histories of several of the suspects in this weekend’s violence.

Among the suspects: a man wanted in connection with a murder who has 21 prior arrests.

The incidents include eight times in which police fired guns at suspects or were fired on, McCarthy told reporters. In two of those incidents, police shot and killed the suspects, both of whom were 16.

McCarthy said the violence unraveled a string of successes by police in suppressing gun violence this year. The city saw 24 shooting incidents on Sunday alone, he said, although three of them may have been self-inflicted.

In 2013, 12 people died and 75 were injured during the four-day Independence Day holiday, according to CNN affiliate WLS.

The holiday shootings follow a week in which Chicago had 52 shooting incidents, according to Police Department statistics. This year, as of June 29, Chicago police had recorded 880 shooting incidents, an average of nearly five a day.

McCarthy said Monday, “It’s Groundhog Day here in Chicago.”

McCarthy said police will continue a summer program to flood high-violence areas with police, but he said that without stronger gun laws, police will continue to face an uphill battle.  “These offenders need to be held fully accountable for violent behavior to prevent them from ending up back on the street too soon,” he said, adding, “There’s too many guns coming in and too little punishment going out.”

If it’s true that tougher gun laws could result in less gun crimes, then the expected future CNN headline could read:

“Gang members befuddled by new gun laws, seek legal weapons to kill each other with”

GangsOne more time – Who obeys laws? That’s right, law abiding people. Who is killing people with guns in Chicago? Yes, criminals. There is a fatal disconnect in the thinking that hundreds of years after the invention of firearms, a man-made law restricting them can correct criminal thinking and behavior. The firearm is an available means to commit a crime and there are enough guns in America presently, to last criminals another 200 years. Even with martial law and door to door gun confiscation, the criminals will be the last ones armed… or maybe the preppers, but either way the point is – a law will not solve this problem.

Also disturbing is the Chicago Police Superintendent’s insinuation that tougher punishment could help this problem. America’s obsession with prisons has run its course; so much so, that citizens will tolerate higher crime rather than building more prisons.  A community has to have enough police resources in order to prevent crimes, or apprehend the offenders, long before a prosecution can occur.  The members of the Chicago PD need more officers, not more laws.

In 2012 the Chicago PD employed roughly 12,000 officers (FBI Uniform Crime Report, table 78) but that number has been going down for many years due to budget cuts. It’s scary that the cities that need more police officers are the ones seeing reductions. If Chicago isn’t careful, it will become the next Detroit.

If a city can’t afford police officers, they certainly cannot afford prisons.

Finally, in a city that has topped 500 murders annually, now they are celebrating better times, when the murder rate is “going down” to under 500. What an incredibly sad celebration for the 400 plus victims and their families each year.

Posted in law enforcement, police | Tagged , , , , , | 16 Comments

The Good Ol’ Boy System

Every now and then someone will complain about the good ol’ boy system either in politics or the workplace. The term is a synonym for cronyism. Although it really means appointing one’s friends, regardless of their qualifications, the complaint is heard when someone is appointed or promoted above others and critics have in their minds that there is something unjust about the action. The underlying feeling suggests perhaps favoritism, or unfair promotion practices.

There is a misconception that in order to be fair, employers must treat all employees the same – provide the same opportunities, same career path, same training etc. There is also a misconception that promotional interviews should be scored objectively, including the candidate’s appearance, demeanor and the content of answers to interview questions.

These misconceptions fuel an already ignorant understanding of successful leadership and management practices.

Although sports analogies are routinely abused in leadership examples… I’m using one anyway: When a track coach evaluates runners for a particular event, there is an evaluation that probably consists of… running. In a group of runners, some are faster than others. Their speed and ability to be competitive in a given event comes into the decision making process when building the team. It also likely helps the coach determine how much and what type of conditioning is needed by the individuals on the team. Not all team members can be the fastest runner, but they can still work toward that goal.

In the workplace, many employees face similar evaluations in their assigned field. The methods of evaluations are different, but the idea is the same. Employees who perform better than others naturally rise to the top. A good coach – or boss, will focus on the good performers rather than the average ones. A winning team is expected to compete, and win. Work is not a recreational sport – it’s a competitive one, with winners and losers.

So should the slower runners complain that the coach is playing favorites? Are the runners’ friends justified calling this the good ol’ boy system? Of course not, so why is it heard so often in the workplace? Because running a race ends in an objective conclusion – someone wins. The workplace (especially a government workplace) cannot have an objective conclusion, because the losers sometimes think they really won, or should have. Workplace evaluations are nearly all subjective and for good reason.

  • The employee meets the stated minimum qualifications (objective)
  • The employee may have to take a general knowledge test (objective)
  • The employee’s potential performance can best be predicted by his past performance (subjective)
  • The employee’s support and respect among peers and supervisors can best be evaluated by interviewing coworkers (subjective)
  • The employee’s productivity can best be measured by reviewing current and past performance evaluations or other reported data (part subjective, part objective)
  • The employee is judged to be a good fit in the new position (subjective)
  • The employee may have to submit an essay covering philosophical aspects of the job (subjective)
  • The employee has a good understanding of the agency mission and regularly pursues it (subjective)

It’s clear to me that the most important evaluation criteria are subjective in nature. Likewise, the employee has a subjective assessment of himself and his ability to perform the new job. Due to the prevalence of subjectivity (and jealousy), any such promotional process is rife with potential for controversy that cannot be avoided.

So what’s a private business or government agency to do? Pick the best people and invest in them. Identify the fastest runners and clear a path for them. Even the good ol’ boys would agree – this is just good business.

Posted in General Posts | Tagged , , , , , | 11 Comments

On Local Politics

The local election results are in and I have to say – I am fairly satisfied. I’ve paid attention to local government for a while now; long enough to know something is wrong with the culture of our politics.  There are good people in politics, but I won’t be discussing them below:

I see the same thing happening time and time again. Local politicianaspiring politicians get into the game for some unholy reason or another, become infatuated with the pockets of support they discover and voila’! another local politician is born.

Quick analysis: Their motivation is born of narcissism.

During the campaign, their support base appears to grow. What they cannot see at this point, is the common denominator among their supporters. Still infatuated, they miss the fact that their new base shares a distrust of government and very likely some radical beliefs on what “conservatism” is.  Some will publicly link their beliefs with former President Ronald Reagan, although these similarities are certainly imagined.

Quick analysis: Their foundation is based on ignorance.

Once in a political race, they and their minions go to work to document and strategically prepare the collection of shortcomings, mistakes, quotes from and rumors about their opponent. Then the attack begins.

Quick analysis: Their strategy is fed by poor self-esteem.

Once the election occurs and the newcomer fails, they sulk. Some vow to get em’ next time, or look for another vulnerability in the skin of their opponent. Much like bacteria would do.  Even worse, some act as if they don’t care.

Final analysis: The political aspirations of these candidates never focus on the things that are needed and desired by the voters: Service and representation.

In the public sector, one either serves or steals from their constituents. There is no middle ground. This type of candidate makes mockery out of the concept of public servitude and capitalizes on the ambivalence, apathy and ignorance of the voters. In our society, there aren’t many citizens who study the issues and know fully well who they are voting for and why. What they focus on rather, are the surface issues of yard signs, attack ads and candidates waving at traffic.

If this is the future of politics, we are in for frustrating times. What is the solution? Educate candidates and current politicians about the needs of your city, county, neighborhood and family. Elect people who have a history of serving and Expect candidates to serve once elected. You don’t have to settle for anything less, but chances are you will.



Posted in General Posts | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

My Retirement List

Steve 2As a young employee, you spend little time contemplating retirement. As time goes on and the decades pass, you make a retirement list. That mental list has all the reasons it might be time to hang up your hat, including your changing priorities, motivations for change, any work-related frustrations and downright irritations. Face it, if we didn’t make this list, we would never get tired of working and never leave the workplace.

I have a list.

Steve’s list of reasons why it’s the right time to retire:

1. 30 1/2 years in law enforcement is a long time. It’s long enough. We don’t live forever and I’ve given the best 30 years of my life to law enforcement work, so it’s only fair that I try to make the best out of the next 30 years.

2. I’m a little tired and need a rest. In the past, vacations were enough to recharge my batteries, but in the last couple of years it hasn’t been the same. I could probably recuperate with a 90-day sabbatical, but… see number 1 above.

3. Cost-to-Benefit Ratio. This is a business tool used to calculate whether the investment into a project is worth it. In my case, I invest my time, energy and identity into being the police chief. The return, or profit, can be measured by my effectiveness, success rate, influence within the agency, city government, and community, and overall job satisfaction. This job requires long hours, where I miss out on other opportunities such as family time, recreation, hobbies and sometimes sleep. Being chief requires that I be tethered via cell phone to the workplace. I receive constant emails, texts (not while driving) and phone calls, and being constantly on-call keep me on edge. I could probably figure out a better way to manage it but… see number 1 above.

4. Politics. Not the political process itself, but the political gamesmanship. I never liked political games, but as my list of reasons to retire gets longer, the political games get more unbearable. Police chiefs are supposed to be apolitical, unbiased and objective. I’ve been a good soldier for a long time, but now the urge to become a political heckler is overwhelming. If this tendency blossoms it would be best if I weren’t an employee of the city (I work for a politician in case you didn’t know).

I just can’t understand when people who are supposed to be leaders give up an opportunity to do the right thing in exchange for an opportunity to do the politically prudent thing. Doing the right thing should be the obvious choice, but when someone worries too much about their political capital, they lose their ethical and moral ability to hold office – in my opinion. Based on number 1 above, I choose to watch (or not watch) from the outside for now.

5. The organization is in good hands. Our agency practices succession planning. We continuously seek to develop leaders who can move into vacated positions. The top leadership team in our agency constantly evaluates scenarios about who, what, when and where people should or could move when the opportunity comes. Because it will always come.

As Chief, I’ve worked to make the agency less dependent on me rather than more dependent. We have professional employees that are qualified and capable of moving into open or soon-to-be open positions. The agency doesn’t need me anymore (sniff sniff). Another way for me to look at this is: I’ve accomplished what I set out to accomplish and I am proud of that.

Although I’ve made it clear that I will not miss certain things about this career, I will miss the people. The people of our agency, both past and present, are hard-working, dedicated people who are here to serve others.

I will also miss public service. I’ve enjoyed getting to know “who” Rapid City is over the past 29 years. If I can be assured that I could return to public service without having it polluted with political nonsense, you may be seeing me again in a different role. No, this isn’t an announcement. I haven’t made any future plans beyond having a real summer vacation with my family.

Whether I return to public service or not, I am grateful for the 29 years of employment, the relationships made during this time, the successes, and believe it or not, some of the failures. It’s been a wonderful experience.

Note: if you’ve enjoyed reading this blog over the last few years, I encourage you to sign up to receive email notifications or perhaps sign up to follow the blog directly. I believe I will continue to write from my home, but I will not be asking the Rapid City Police Department to promote my blog posts unless they are specifically related to law enforcement. It’s hard for me to say at this point, but I believe I will be writing about a variety of topics to include local politics, public service, law enforcement issues and maybe even some important topics like retirement or fishing.

This will be my last blog post as police chief of the Rapid City Police Department. It is been both an honor and a pleasure to connect with you through social media or through this blog and I hope to stay in touch in the future.

Posted in General Posts | Tagged , , , , , | 15 Comments

Want to help solve crimes? You can.

Wouldn’t it be nice if police investigations went as smoothly in real life as they do on TV? We would love to solve every case in 60 minutes or less, but unfortunately, it’s not always that easy.

Got a tip that can help solve these crimes or others? Text us!

Got a tip that can help solve these crimes or others? Text us!

Detectives often rely on information from the public to solve crimes and make arrests. We know that for every unsolved case, there’s someone out there with information that could help detectives. That person may be afraid to come forward and speak with police, or they may not realize their information is the missing piece of the puzzle. That’s where the Community Reward Fund comes in.

The Community Reward Fund was founded in Rapid City more than 20 years ago, to seek information in the brutal stabbing death of Donnivan Schaeffer. Today, the Community Reward Fund offers monetary incentives for tips that lead to convictions in major crimes.

With the help of the Community Reward Fund, law enforcement can solicit tips that may lead to a break in a major case. Over the years, rewards have been paid out for tips that helped solve robberies, burglaries, and murders. These tips led to arrests and jail time, which made our community a safer place.

The fund is managed by a board, which includes the Rapid City Police Chief, Pennington County Sheriff, local members of the media, business, and banking industries, and the general public. The board is responsible for determining which unsolved cases to offer rewards for, and paying out those rewards when appropriate.

Current cases with rewards include:

  • $6,000 for information leading to an arrest and conviction in the murder of Robert Ghostbear. Ghostbear was found dead on the railroad tracks on East North Street on March 21, 2012. The cause of death was determined to be blunt force trauma to the head.
  • $6,000 for information leading to an arrest and conviction in the murder of Carl Joseph Bordeaux. Bordeaux was found dead in his apartment on North Maple Avenue on January 30, 2009, with his throat cut and a phone cord wrapped around his neck.
  • $2,000 for information leading to an arrest and conviction in the burglary and aggravated assault of a woman on August 21, 2013. The victim was brutally attacked by an unknown male suspect in her apartment on North 7th Street.

Your organization can help by donating to this public fund. Donations will be used to offer more rewards for crime tips, which will lead to more arrests and a safer community for everyone. To learn more about the Community Reward Fund or to make a donation, contact the Rapid City Police Department at 394-4133.

Posted in General Posts | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Next Chapter

Old School AllenderI started my law enforcement career as a reserve police officer in late 1982 with the Belle Fourche, SD Police Department. I accepted a full time position with the same department starting January 1, 1984. I attended the police academy that year and just a year and a half later moved 50 miles to Rapid City, SD where I began my new adventure as a patrol officer on May 28, 1985. After serving the next 29 years as a patrol officer, detective, sergeant, lieutenant, captain and police chief, I will retire from the Rapid City Police Department on May 30th, 2014, ending a law enforcement career spanning 30 years five months, or 11,108 days. But who’s counting.

I’ve had the opportunity to work with one of the finest departments in the nation along with some of the greatest people in the world. Rapid City is a great place to live and work, and it has been a pleasure and a privilege to serve the people and the law enforcement community for the past three decades.

I’ve had many career highlights and low points, successes and failures. As police chief, one of my top priorities was to connect with the community and attempt to humanize my position. I’ve shared opinions and views that weren’t always politically correct, but they were honest. I feel good about that.

Why now? It’s hard to explain. It’s just time. The hardest thing about it for me was picking the right time to announce my retirement. I felt I needed to wait for a quiet moment – between crises, between controversies, to help prevent the public from believing I was forced out or worse yet, resigned in shame. Pretty shallow, I know.

So what will my legacy be? That story will be told after I am gone, and it’s something I can no longer control.Steve 2

It’s been fun, and rewarding, but most of all it’s been an honor to serve others for more than half my life. I am not sure what the future holds for me, but I will spend the next year or so making plans for the next chapter in my life.

Thank you for the opportunities, the partnerships and most of all for your trust and support.

Posted in General Posts | Tagged , , , , | 15 Comments