BACKUS — Probation cases in Cass County declined with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic but county officials, noting a backlog in the restarted court system, are preparing for more activity.

At the Tuesday, July 7, Cass County Board meeting Probation Director Jim Schneider shared with commissioners caseload statistics from the past three years. In February of this year, there were approximately 45 more caseloads than in 2019, but with COVID-19 restrictions the caseloads declined in the months of March through May. However, as of June 1, the court system has begun scheduling current cases and processing the backlog of cases, which on June 5 was over 600 adult cases and 80 juvenile cases pending.

Due to decreased activity in the probation department, the employee shared between probation and Health Human and Veterans Services worked full time in HHVS. As the backlog of cases are addressed there may be a need to have this employee resume work with the probation department. Also, it was noted there is a vacancy within the department that has not been filled because of the pandemic.

Schneider mentioned the department has been continuing to conduct business by being creative. Officers have conducted visits in parking lots or by video communication. He also noted the juvenile diversion program was suspended during the months of March through June and has recently resumed operation by utilizing Zoom meetings.

During the meeting, Schneider also recognized Travis Fisher as the recipient of this year's Minnesota Association of County Probation Officers Outstanding Performance Award. The award is given to a probation officer who has demonstrated professionalism and leadership within their county or in the field of probation. Fisher came to Cass County as an intern while he attended Bemidji State University. After his internship, he volunteered with Cass County until he received a job with another county. Though a position eventually opened in Cass County, Fisher remained dedicated to his position with the other county. After another position became available within Cass County with the opportunity to start a pretrial program, Fisher decided to return to Cass County. Because of this work and dedication, Fisher was nominated and awarded this performance award, Schneider said.

Commissioners also approved a wellness court grant application for $104,000 to fund the substance abuse program. These funds will be used to assist in paying a portion of one probation officer’s salary, the majority of the coordinator’s salary, reimbursement of probation officer mileage and for drug and alcohol testing, which is conducted a minimum of two times per week. The main goals of this program is to reduce costs associated with chemical use and criminal behavior, reduce criminal behavior and recidivism, enhance public safety, enhance the well-being of participants and supplement program costs with participant fees.