All categories of crime in GJ rising sharply
Violent crime is on the rise in Grand Junction, according to the police department’s annual report comparing to past years the types of incidents it handled in 2016.
Most categories of crimes have seen an increase, including everything from robberies to weapons violations, trespassing and theft, and Grand Junction Police Chief John Camper said his department has noticed increasing numbers of property crimes, crimes against people, and arrests overall.
In the past year, the department handled six homicide cases, which included two officer-involved shootings, two child-abuse cases where adults have been arrested and charged in the deaths of children, and another case of a 6-year-old boy who suffocated last July, which is still under investigation. The remaining homicide was the fatal stabbing of 20-year-old Caleb Fettig at the A&W Mobile Home Park in December.
The officer-involved shootings included the death of Brian Gaither, a 24-year-old parolee who ran from police and dragged the officer with his car, and Simon Gomez, 44, who was shot while he held two children hostage at knifepoint. In both cases, inquiries found the officers were justified in their use of deadly force.
Camper said he’s concerned about the rise in violent crime.
“I talk to police chiefs throughout the state and they’re seeing the same thing that we’re seeing – a level of violence that we haven’t seen before,” he said, noting that it’s hard to pinpoint the reason for the rise.
Overall, the department saw an 18 percent increase in felony arrests compared to the previous year, which amounts to a 33 percent increase since 2012.
“What’s concerning about some of those is that they can be difficult to prevent,” he said. “We concentrate on crime prevention but assaults and things like that can be pretty random.”
While property crimes, such as car theft or burglary, can be analyzed and targeted, crimes against people are more nuanced and less predictable, Camper said.
“They don’t lend themselves to just some neat program that cuts down on those issues,” he said.
The department recently hired a crime analyst, which Camper hopes will help the department be more data-driven and respond to sudden crime trends, when possible.
“Some of these are more societal issues that we’re going to have limited ability to control,” he said. “On the other hand, there are some that we clearly can try to direct our resources toward and make some deployment decisions on.”
A state law that went into effect last year reclassifying strangulation as a felony accounts for some of the uptick in aggravated assaults, which increased 59 percent compared to 2015. Of the 140 aggravated assaults reported in 2016, about one-third were strangulations, which previously could be classified as misdemeanors.
Camper attributed a 60 percent increase in trespassing incidents to increased patrols in the downtown area, increased enforcement and to community policing measures that have educated business owners on methods to deal with the homeless population.
Though the department saw a decrease in the number of liquor violations and municipal court traffic tickets issued, Camper sees those dips as a sign that his officers have had to prioritize their time to deal with more urgent issues and don’t have time to proactively deal with those incidents as much.
The department has seen a 30 percent increase in dispatched calls over the past five years, which has left officers with less time between calls to incidents to interact with citizens, which might result in citations or arrests for non-violent crimes.
Camper also found the increase in property crimes concerning, because thefts and burglaries often are tied to drug cases, in his experience.
“It’s often an indication of an increase in drug activity,” he said. “Our drug task force is busier than ever.”