A glimpse at overall crime in the Roaring Fork and Grand valleys
Even with a constant influx of people in the region, a pandemic, inflation and constant scrambles for housing, crime overall does not seem to be on the rise in Garfield County or the Roaring Fork Valley. But there are some alarming trends.
Police statistics are recorded quarterly by each police department and sheriff’s office across the nation for internal purposes, and many agencies use the categories of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
There is no requirement for any department to send their findings to the FBI. For example, in Colorado, 235 out of 247 law enforcement agencies reported their annual statistics to the federal government in 2021, according to the Colorado Crime Data Explorer through the FBI.
Although the FBI shows Colorado having a large spike in crime rates since 2020, this region has not seen the same climb, statistics show.
In Garfield and Pitkin counties, crime stats for each police agency in the largest municipalities were collected to see what crime looks like on a local level, what direction it is heading and what local law enforcement’s biggest concerns are moving forward.
Crimes Against Another Person is a category that includes assault, intimidation or menacing, domestic violence, murder or manslaughter, false imprisonment, kidnapping or abduction, sex assault, child abuse and non-violent family offense.
It can also include enticement of a child, crime against an at-risk adult, harassing communication and reckless endangerment, disorderly conduct or restraining order violations.
According to the Third Quarter Report for Glenwood Springs in 2022, there were 166 offenses that were crimes against another person year-to-date for the third quarter. There were 196 such crimes in 2021. The four-year average in Glenwood for crimes against another person is 165 per year, showing a 1% increase in four years.
Aspen stayed within the same range in numbers for crimes against a person, while Carbondale had a decrease in crimes against a person, except for a strange spike in harassment in 2022. Rifle had a slight increase in crimes against a person, but mostly due to an abnormally high spike in menacing from last year.
Glenwood did record two murders this year, and Rifle recorded two last year, and one this year. Both Chief Joseph Deras in Glenwood Springs and Chief Debra Funston in Rifle said that the incidents were abnormal and circumstantial, involving additional factors like mental-health issues and/or drugs.
Recent shootings within the last year, like the man allegedly opening fire on police officers in Glenwood Springs during the summer and the young man who allegedly shot someone at a quinceanera in Rifle were both abnormally violent for the region and not an example of any potential trend, the chiefs said.
Police statistics tracking varies
Some things to keep in mind when looking into local stats in any community is that numbers are added to the statistics whenever a police department is called. Some alleged offenders are let off with a warning, some cases are dropped in court and some might just be an inquiry or witness account that didn’t follow through.
Glenwood Springs does make its police statistics public on a quarterly basis and with cleared statistics added. Although transparent, it is not a requirement, nor is it common for many municipalities or counties.
Different agencies compile statistics differently, as well.
For instance, a decent amount of traffic stops in Carbondale are usually let go with a warning instead of having a ticket issued, Carbondale Chief of Police Kirk Wilson said.
Aspen’s Assistant Chief of Operations, Bill Lin, said Aspen adds to its system every time a resident calls about a bear encounter, even if the resident is just calling the non-emergency line to inquire about a bear proof trash can.
The 2022 year-to-date record of calls-for-service involving bears in Aspen were 562 — significantly higher than Glenwood, which recorded 74, or Carbondale, which recorded 30. Rifle did not report stats on bear calls.
Some crimes can be added in more than one category, like in the case of a domestic dispute that escalates to an assault, Chief Wilson said.
Robbery involves fear or a weapon, while burglary is just breaking in. Tickets for weapons can include someone with a registered gun who might be pulled over for a DUI. Since they are under the influence they are not legally allowed to have a weapon in their possession, Wilson explained.
Response times are also hard to gauge in any smaller community. Time averages can look longer than people would hope for when the municipality is averaging non-life-threatening time responses with life-threatening responses.
Response times are shorter if someone’s life is in danger, but, if no lives are in danger, such as in the case of a car being stolen, it might take a lot longer to see an officer show up.
“I can assure you, police are not just sitting around,” Wilson said.
An increase in cases involving people with mental health concerns and drug and alcohol use since the pandemic has also impacted police statistics. Police are still a “catch-all” for many residents to report, and sometimes it’s for things police were not initially educated to respond to, officials said.
Drugs and DUIs
Garfield County has an inter-agency task force for fighting heavy drug traffic in the region, especially through the Interstate 70 corridor where there is a higher volume of illicit drugs moving through the county.
The Special Problems Enforcement and Response team has also been responsible for finding human trafficking in the area because they were able to track methamphetamine that was being trafficked, Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario said
“I still think the common thread and the base of most crimes that occur probably nationwide is drug related,” Vallario said. “I would say all of these crimes sort of play into that whether you’re doing burglaries, whether you’re stealing cars, whether you’re doing identity theft or defrauding people — a lot of it all revolves with the drug usage in the drug trade.”
Drug charges in each county have gone down, but it doesn’t necessarily mean there are less drugs or less people using drugs.
Marijuana was legalized in 2012 and many drugs have been reclassified to lower charges, which has caused reshuffling and new problems for police, Vallario said.
Rifle’s Chief Funston said that with marijuana becoming legal, people feel more liberated to smoke and then drive. Since there is no breathalyzer for marijuana and a roadside test might not always prove intoxication, it is harder for police to stop offenders.
Intoxication while driving is careless driving, and that increases the chance of accidents on the road, Funston said.
Another concern was for some of the harder drugs like meth or heroin having reduced charges; not because of the minor user struggling with addiction, but for more violent offenders who are able to get out on bail instantly after an arrest, Vallario, Funston and Deras agreed.
“Decriminalization of certain offenses or the thresholds for crimes are being lowered, and the accountability for those offenses have been changed one way or the other. That may lend itself to encourage that kind of behavior because there’s no repercussions for that kind of conduct,” Glenwood’s Chief Deras said.
Detecting differences in mental health
Area police chiefs and Sheriff Vallario agreed that the conversation around mental health is changing, and each municipality is aiming to find better ways to accommodate people struggling with mental health.
“Not to say we don’t have people with mental-health issues that aren’t on the surface doing things that are illegal, but it becomes very tricky when you’ve got somebody with mental-health issues, substance-abuse issues and criminal issues, which direction to push them for the right help,” Funston said.
Vallario said that he has seen people in jail who should not be there and are not served well suffering with mental health while in a prison or jail when they should be treated for their mental health.
Mental health itself is evolving and becoming a more important conversation nationwide, but there is still a lot of work needed throughout the country, the state and this specific region, he and others said.
“We have mental-health facilities that can’t take people in, or they don’t have the resources to handle the amount of mental-health issues that we have going on in our nation right now,” Funston said.
Although there is no national or even state standard, each municipality is taking strides to educate their staff and more readily assist their local community accordingly.
The Aspen Police Department has trained its entire staff, including patrol officers, civilian staff and even their front desk employees, with Crisis Intervention Training (CIT).
“We also have a co-responder and Human Services Officer team that responds to calls for service,” Linn said. “The co-responder is a mental-health professional that works out of our office here with us and serves us, Pitkin County and Snowmass Village Police Department, to respond for calls from services with people who are in crisis.”
Carbondale, Rifle and Glenwood Springs do offer education for determining when someone is having a mental-health crisis and encourage staff to attend educational studies to further their ability to serve their communities in that capacity.
Responder mental health
Whether it’s a haunting image after a horrific accident, an officer being ambushed, or an unexpected death that could have been avoided, police have to deal with a lot of tough situations that most civilians are never forced to encounter.
Officers need to be just as conscientious of their own mental health as for others. That’s handled differently than it was a decade ago.
Sheriff Vallario has worked in law enforcement for several decades. He said he has seen the culture for how police handle their work on a mental and emotional level evolve from police drowning bad memories at the bar, to now where there is a region-wide push for officers to seek mental-health professionals, even after more minor incidents.
Vallario has spearheaded conversations for mental health in law enforcement and holds a seminar during the summers to encourage outreach and comfort.
“The worst thing is, we call it putting it on the shelf; you get a traumatic event, and you don’t have time to deal with it,” Vallario said. “You don’t want to deal with it; ‘I’m a tough cop. I don’t have to deal with it. I put it on the shelf’ … and then eventually the shelf breaks.”
He added, “Then we’re dealing with PTSD, alcoholism, divorce, suicide, and we want our folks to not do that,” he said. “Law-enforcement officers commit suicide at the same rate our returning veterans do — 22 a day.”
Remembering images that still haunt him a little, Vallario wishes for police in generations after him to be able to work through haunting visions and traumatizing situations in a way that he was unable to access when he was a young officer.
Chiefs in each municipality said they encourage a safe environment for officers to seek therapy or counseling after a traumatic incident, for the department, the community and for the families of the officers.
Some of the municipalities mandatorily enforce mental-health counseling and some just strongly encourage it, but in all cases it is openly offered without penalty, they said.
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