Thefts topped 2011 crime numbers

Drug use remains main concern for law enforcement officials

Keywords: Poll question,

Local law enforcement officials are blaming the drug problem as one of the reasons for the number of thefts that occur in the region.

According to figures from the Cortez Police Department, there were 468 thefts of some form reported in 2011. That number includes more than 83 shoplifting incidents.

The Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office has a different reporting formula for thefts than the Cortez Police Department. The sheriff’s statistics showed there were 123 thefts — 32 were felonies; that was compared to the 82 thefts in 2010, 39 of which were felonies.

The combined number of thefts bring the total to 591.

Andy Hughes, assistant district attorney for the 22nd Judicial District, believes the theft problem is directly tied to the drug problem in the county.

He said every case is different, but added admissions about substance abuse during pre-sentence investigation reports, that judges use in determining sentencing, are pretty clear indicators that a drug problem exists in Montezuma County.

WHY SO MANY?

Hughes, who is a write-in candidate for the 22nd Judicial District Attorney position, said 90 percent of the crimes revolve around alcohol or illegal drugs.

“If we could get a handle on our drug or alcohol problems our crimes would go down,” he said.

All of the thefts in 2011, he said, does not mean there were 591 individuals committing the crimes. He said it is not unusual for the same people to commit multiple thefts until they get caught, and some even continue after that.

He also said the more than 500 thefts county-wide could be misleading since many people do not report the crime to law enforcement.

Many people commit crimes when they are drunk or under the influence of drugs, looking for things they can sell to get the money for the drug of their choice, Hughes said.

“It puts you in an altered state,” Hughes said, mentioning a person under the influence does not think clearly.

“They are someone else,” he said.“They do everything they can to sell or pawn (stolen items) to get money for drugs.”

Hughes did say that he doesn’t think poverty plays a significant role in theft crimes.

“What we find are the people who are doing this type of crime (do so) because of the need for money to do drugs,” he said, but added that the recent economic recession cannot help.

“Jobs are hard to come by, so often I see a direct correlation with this crime,” he said.

He said one of the items that thieves are going after the most is copper wire, ever since the price of copper started to rise.

LAW ENFORCEMENT’S ROLE

Montezuma County Sheriff Dennis Spruell said the high number of thefts for a county with 24,000 people is pretty typical.

Will Furse, the Republican nominee for district attorney for the 22nd Judicial District, said property crimes have the highest habitual rates compared to other offenses, and that means they must be dealt with in unique ways.

He said while national crime rates are decreasing, Montezuma County has experienced a spike in property crime.

Furse said a small number of offenders are responsible for a large percentage of property crimes, so breaking cycles of offending is key to reducing property and other types of crime.

“A strategy that focuses on preventing children from becoming offenders and reducing the opportunity for crime is very important,” Furse wrote in an email. “It’s also been shown that police strategies that increase the offender’s fear of simply being arrested are very successful in reducing property crime.”

He said this contrasts with the popular notion that longer prison sentences reduce property crimes.

“We need to find new ways for the government and the community to work together and prevent offenders from spinning inside the revolving door of our current, local criminal justice system,” Furse wrote in the email.

Location also plays a role in where thefts occur, according to statistics from the Cortez Police Department, which breaks statistics into four quadrants, called GEOs.

For example, on the southeast side of town, where Walmart is located, there were 123 thefts while the streets east of Market and north of Main Street in GEO 2 had 154 thefts.

On the Northeast side of town there were 32 thefts in 2011 and another 76 in the southwest portion of town, also called GEO 3.

PROPERTY DAMAGE

Statistics from the Montezuma County law enforcement agencies also show property damage — which the sheriff’s office calls criminal mischief — is a major concern.

In 2011, according to Cortez Police statistics, there were 164 instances of property damage that officers responded to, while the Montezuma Sheriff’s Office responded to 84 calls, 13 which were felonies.

In 2010, the sheriff’s office responded to 102 calls for criminal mischief, 15 which were felonies.

Hughes said he really did not know why property damage numbers were so high and wondered how many of them were drug related.

Furse again provided his views via email.

He said he believes property crime could be decreased through concepts of restorative justice and community involvement.

“While not appropriate for all cases, restorative justice is proven to reduce crime rates as it makes the offender truly recognize the moral and social effects of their harmful actions — something that incarceration alone cannot accomplish.

“It is my plan to utilize the efforts of our community and implement a comprehensive model of restorative justice tailored toward non-violent and juvenile offenders,” he wrote.

Spruell also said the number of property damage or criminal mischief crimes within the county is not surprising.

“It is average,” the sheriff said. “I don’t like it. We need to be vigilant in trying to stop this. It’s disheartening that we have this (problem).”

Spruell believes most of the thefts and property damage crimes are the result of alcohol and methamphetamine usage.

OTHER CRIMES

While the most prevalent crimes in the city and county by far are property damage and thefts, Spruell said all criminal activity needs to be take seriously.

“All crimes are a concern to us,” he said.

He said he believes that if the county could find a way to stop the use of meth and the abuse of alcohol, crime numbers would drop dramatically.

According to figures from the sheriff’s office there were 110 instances where drugs were involved, with possession of drug paraphernalia and marijuana making up the bulk of the drug crimes.

According to the crime statistics from the sheriff’s office and police department, there were no murders in 2011, but there were six death cases that were investigated.

There was a murder reported in 2012 and Luther Hampson is facing murder charges in the death of Jonathan Hayes.

Statistics from the Cortez Police Department show that there were 24 aggravated assaults in 2011. The sheriff’s office reported the statistics a little differently, showing there were two second-degree assaults on a police or fire department official and another 61 cases of third-degree assaults were reported.

The most prevalent crime besides theft and property damage in 2011 within the Cortez Police Department was simple assault, with more than 110 incidents.

Spruell said not too much should be read into the simple assault numbers since it could include nothing more than a verbal threat or a light push while an aggravated assault charge means the act resulted in bodily harm.

Statistics also showed there were three robberies and 11 child abuse incidents in 2011,

Eighteen sexual assaults were investigated by the Cortez Police Department. The sheriff’s office used a different gauge in reporting sex crime numbers, though there was not one case of sexual exploitation of a minor and there were five instances where sex offenders failed to register.

michaelm@cortezjournal.com