Fewer felony cases filed in Mesa County
Mesa County filed fewer felony cases and reported less crime last year, mirroring an overall trend of crime decreasing nationwide since 2005.
The county reported its highest ever felony filing case-load of 2,223 in 2005. As of last week, Mesa County’s felony cases topped 1,850. In 2007, Mesa County reported 2,107 felony cases.
Mesa County District Attorney Pete Hautzinger said the decrease is not the result of law enforcement working less or prosecutors purposely filing fewer cases. Hautzinger attributed the decreases to tough enforcement in the county’s continued war on methamphetamine, which netted many of the larger players a few years ago.
“The numbers are as close to confirmation that the approach is working,” he said. “I really have to believe we’re putting the right people behind bars. We’re down close to 300 cases. That’s pretty thrilling.”
Similarly, the Mesa County Sheriff’s Department responded to fewer calls in 2008, compared to previous years. Through November 2008, the department had responded to 31,404 calls. In 2005, deputies answered to 36,141 calls.
Despite fewer felony cases, Mesa County prosecutors were hopping this year, taking 69 felony cases to trial as of late December, Hautzinger said. Prosecutors were on track to take about 152 of the county’s total cases to trial this year. That number is twice as many as larger Front Range counties of Larimer and Boulder, Hautzinger said.
“I am encouraging our guys to take cases to trial as much as possible,” he said. “In a perfect world, I would think every criminal case ought to go to trial, because it is 12 average citizens sitting in judgment on their peers.”
The fluctuations over the years of the county’s felony cases may be attributed to a crackdown on methamphetamine dealers and users, according to a recently released report headed by former Mesa State professor Michael Gizzi.
Meth is a factor in 70 percent of Mesa County’s felony drug cases.
A 2007 study headed by Gizzi showed the criminal case filings of meth cases in Mesa County increased by more than 40 percent between 1999 and 2007. Meth use peaked in 2006 when it was a factor in 89.3 percent of cases in Mesa County.
In fiscal year 2008, meth involvement declined to 69 percent of the caseload, the latest study showed.
That may be because of an increase in local enforcement efforts and a decrease of supply from Mexican drug-trafficking operations, Gizzi said.
Despite the downward trend of crime in Mesa County, 10 homicides were reported in Mesa County in 2008, which is up from seven homicides in 2007.