Fighting crime in Colorado – Greeley Tribune
From 2019 to 2021, motor vehicle thefts reported to the Greeley Police Department increased by 86%.
In fact, general property crime is up 18% in Greeley. The only exception is arson, which decreased by 26%. Violent crime in Greeley over the same period has also increased by 61%.
These numbers are not isolated to Greeley. According to the Colorado Bureau of Investigations, these same crime categories have increased across the state of Colorado by similar percentages. Where does this rank us as a state in property crime rates?
In 2010, Colorado ranked 23rd, with 1st being the lowest rates and 50th being the worst rates. With violent crime rates, Colorado fell from 26th in 2010 to 31st in 2020. Finally, in terms of total crime rates, Colorado fell from 22nd in 2010 to 47th in 2020.
The next question you should have is “Why?” While this is the easy and appropriate question to ask, the answer is anything but.
When I had the honor of being named Chief of Police of the Greeley Police Department earlier this year, I knew the challenges we, as an agency, city and state, had before us when it came to about rising crime rates. That’s the question I’ve also asked myself as Colorado’s crime rate continues to skyrocket.
To understand the increase in crime rates, it is important to recognize some of the factors that contribute to this increase. This includes recidivism rates, mental health issues and legislative changes.
Recidivism is the likelihood that an offender will reoffend by committing another crime upon release. This, like most things in the criminal justice world, is tracked.
This, like most crime categories, is also bad in Colorado. Arkansas, Alaska, and Delaware are the three states in the United States that have worse recidivism rates than Colorado.
While some who commit crimes in our city and state are very aware of what they are doing, there are others who are not as cognitively aware of their actions. Mental Health America ranks states based on the prevalence of mental illness among state citizens and their access to mental health care.
In 2015, the MHA ranked Colorado with a score of 32. In 2022, that number is 51. States ranked 39 to 51 indicate adults have higher prevalence of mental illness and rates of access to mental illness. lower care for this disease.
These types of calls have always been forwarded to the police to be handled as well, even when they are not criminal in nature. Although many officers have advanced training in dealing with people in mental health crisis, they are by no means mental health professionals.
Fortunately, the Greeley Police Department has partnered with North Range Behavioral Health and Greeley Fire Department for years with our Co-Responder and Squad 1 program.
This program pairs a licensed mental health clinician with a police officer to determine if the person should be referred for an immediate behavioral health assessment instead of jail. Squad 1 also has a clinician in addition to a firefighter to respond to medical and mental health calls.
While this is a fantastic partnership that I am proud to have with North Range Behavioral Health and the Department of Greeley, these programs do not and do not aim to address violent crime rates.
Since 2014, numerous legislative changes have continuously relaxed the penalties and levels of indictment for many crimes.
Bill 14-1266, passed in 2014, reduced the penalty rate and charge levels for certain property crimes and auto thefts. Senate Bill 21-124 lowered certain felony murders to a Class 2 felony, down from a Class 1 felony. Senate Bill 21-271 reduced the felony of trespassing a vehicle from a class 5 felony to a class 1 misdemeanor, as well as many other felonies that have been downgraded to lower levels.
There have also been bond reforms, increasing the amount of ‘personal recognizance’ bonds instead of cash bonds – meaning an arrested person can walk out of jail without paying anything simply by promising to appear before court to answer his charges. These obligations are often also granted to repeat offenders who commit to serious and criminal charges.
In 2019, a law was passed that made drug possession a felony to a misdemeanor as long as the suspect had less than 4 grams of drugs on them, including methamphetamine and fentanyl.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid similar to heroin or morphine, but 50 to 100 times more potent. So it’s 50 to 100 times more deadly, and the overdose statistics in Colorado show that.
In Greeley, from 2010 to 2017, there were an average of 50 synthetic opioid deaths per year citing fentanyl overdoses; 400 deaths in total during this period. In 2018, the number of synthetic opioids citing fentanyl overdoses rose to 102 deaths. In 2019, 2020, and 2021, that annual total was 222, 540, and 912 overdose deaths, respectively.
The total number of synthetic opioid overdose deaths mentioning fentanyl in Greeley in the past four years alone is 1,776.
The trends are unfortunately similar with methamphetamine overdoses.
From 2010 to 2016, there were an average of 100 deaths per year from methamphetamine overdoses; 705 deaths in total during this period. In 2017, the number of methamphetamine overdose deaths rose to 299. In 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021, the annual total was 318, 349, 525, and 749 overdose deaths, respectively.
I tell you all this so as not to blame or pass the buck. I think it’s important for the community to be aware and truly understand the challenges and limitations that we as law enforcement officers navigate every day.
It is also important to understand the difficulties related to drugs, alcohol and mental health problems that a large part of our clientele struggles with.
We constantly respond to calls for service that just a few years ago would have resulted in the arrest of the suspect. With some of the legislative changes that have been made in Colorado, we are left to issue a subpoena and walk away.
I also think it’s important to disperse some of the false narratives surrounding crime and inequality in Greeley and also in Colorado.
The most disadvantaged members of our community do not commit the most crimes. In fact, crime has a disproportionate impact on disadvantaged and minority populations.
The majority of crime is opportunistic in nature and spans all socio-economic statuses. More importantly, there are a small number of offenders who commit a disproportionate amount of harm to society based on the percentage of society they make up.
Since 2015, we have been committed to a strategy called the Data Driven Approaches to Crime and Traffic Safety Model. We use the data to help us deploy additional resources where crime and traffic accidents overlap.
This strategy has proven effective across the country in reducing social harms in communities.
There is a need for reflection, evaluation and action. We have seen several instances of changes in crime rates, mental health rankings, and drug-related deaths that correlate with various legislative changes. Public safety takes us all.
Reducing crime in the community is a high priority for the Greeley Police Department. I think it’s important to take a statewide, holistic, common-sense approach to addressing these acute and long-term issues.
Rising crime rates impact where people live, work and play.
I am incredibly grateful to be at the helm of what I consider to be the finest law enforcement agency in the state. We understand the challenges ahead and my officers, command staff and I are committed to proudly working with citizens to protect our community.
I believe that engaged communities are safe communities and this is where I seek the help of communities in this mission. Bring solutions, we are here to listen to you.
We need to pause and assess the impacts of previous efforts if we are to right the ship in Colorado – before continuing this ominous slide.
– Adam Turk is Chief of the Greeley Police Department