Crimes raise police priority for gang intel

Vacant for the past year, a full-time position at the Grand Junction Police Department dedicated to monitoring gang activity will soon be filled, department leaders said last week.

Deputy Chief John Zen said the agency’s gang intelligence job will be filled “in the very near future,” adding discussion has started about possible reassignments for existing staff.

Zen said urgency to fill the position was driven in part by an investigation into a crime spree July 16 that included the slaying of 31-year-old Jorge Alberto Carrasco outside Taco Bell, 850 North Ave., the armed robberies of two businesses and a residential burglary. The crimes, which authorities suspect were committed by a group of four men, were gang-related, police have said.

Police have declined to discuss the cases in detail, citing ongoing investigation and sealed arrest warrant affidavits. While not discussing specifics, Zen and Chief John Camper have said the investigation shed new light on local gangs.

“There were some things (early on) that caused us to scratch our heads and ask, ‘Did we know about that? ... was that information shared with us?’ ” Zen said. “As the information started to break and we started to understand everything, I was a little less concerned.”

Zen added, “I don’t think we’re skipping a beat.”

A former intelligence officer who studied gang issues at the department in the mid-1990s, Zen assessed Grand Junction’s current gang activity this way: “There are probably more people out there now claiming to be gang members. But as far as the kind of criminal activity involved, not much has changed.”

Authorized for 103 sworn officers, the department currently has 100 sworn staff, according to police spokeswoman Kate Porras.

The gang intelligence job has been vacant since the departure of officer Ricky Valdez, who left Grand Junction in July 2010 for another law enforcement job. Zen said Valdez’s duties were split among two officers and a sergeant. The gang watch work was “collateral” to those officers’ normal duties, he said.

Police leaders in 2010 said staff vacancies — which totaled up to 10 at one point last summer after a series of resignations and firings — were not immediately filled because of the city’s budget uncertainty at the time. The department recently has been “given the green light” and added four officers, Zen said.

The additions come as Grand Junction experienced a year-to-year increase in overall reported crime through the end of June.

According to department figures, total reported crime increased nearly 8 percent — 4,753 incidents this year compared with 4,421 measured against the same period in 2010.

The 2011 totals lagged behind the pace of other recent years. At the same point in 2009, the department reported 5,087 incidents, and 4,830 in 2008.



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