Whitman Park’s crime problem
As a welcome change we can start this week’s column with a positive note — that being the offer by District Attorney Dan Rubenstein to help the Grand Junction Police Department manage the crime problem in Whitman Park through the use of restraining orders when visitors violate the law on park property.
It is a little sad that the person who had to come up the idea wasn’t someone actually involved in city government, but I assume we must accept that realistic ideas from that particular quarter are all on board a ship that sailed away long ago.
I suppose observations like that are why I never get invited to elaborate dinners with city illuminati, where they eat delicacies like hummingbird tongues with tiny golden forks. I’m told it tastes just like chicken.
Nevertheless, an excellent idea that will end up making more work for the District Attorney’s Office, which is not something most folks in government are quick to offer — especially from an office that is already becoming overloaded or as I like to think of it, too stuffed to jump.
Also, remember that the criminal justice system is like a balloon. You cannot squeeze one part of it without changing the shape of another. After all, arresting someone for violating a restraining order is by itself an expense and processing them through the system is another and what if someone continues to flout the law by refusing to give up the Elysium Fields of Whitman Park after they’ve committed a prior offense on the property — what’s the consequence?
I’m going to make an educated guess and say that many of the people who violate a restraining order in that area are not going to be especially intimidated by being paraded in front of a judge for a lecture, so eventually, it’s probably going to have to be jail.
A surprising fact about jail is that, for the most part, the only person who doesn’t pay for the upkeep of the facility is the person in it — which makes sense when you consider that those folks are not choosing to be there. At least usually.
However, when it comes to notions of deterrence, sanctions need to have some sting and while many of you reading this might think that being arrested, found to be repeatedly uncooperative with supervision and eventually placed in the calaboose might cause you problems, there are more than a few who don’t worry a couple of misdemeanor convictions are going to hold up their application for NASA.
So the whole thing can be time-consuming and a little expensive, although the police department does save a bit of money by being able to conduct surveillance of the park with a pair of low-power binoculars from across the street at the public safety building. (Important officials can use opera glasses as befitting their status).
The fact that some of these folks are willing to commit criminal acts this close to a law enforcement facility already gives us some idea of their relationship to and respect for authority.
So like most things in life, if we want to solve a problem we’re probably going to have to give the people solving it a little bit of money, which we are probably going be called upon to do in November.
That doesn’t mean that we can’t still be innovative in our approach to problems.
While I was a deputy district attorney in southern Denver, the sheriff at the time had to deal with a large influx of inmates sentenced to jail for repeated violations of low-level misdemeanors.
The budget for a new jail wasn’t forthcoming so a nearby parking lot was fenced off, office trailers were rented as sleeping facilities and guard shack and portable toilets were installed, as were a couple of picnic tables and a basketball hoop.
If you were sentenced to a short period of time or weekend incarceration, that’s where you stayed and ate sandwiches for couple of days.
The occupants didn’t particularly enjoy it because it was quite boring and they weren’t allowed to be intoxicated.
I was able to observe this fairly closely as the parking lot/jail was about four feet from my office window.
With a little innovation like this and public servants like the district attorney, sheriff and rank-and-file police officers willing to step up, we might actually begin to solve the problem.