Drop in DUIs may be misleading

Poring over a crime and traffic report covering the last five years, Grand Junction Police Department spokeswoman Heidi Davidson noted the 21% drop in DUIs in 2018 compared to 2017 as one number that stands out.

The 269 DUI offenses reported by the Grand Junction Police Department is a five-year low for the department. For reference, 472 DUIs were reported in 2014.

Total traffic tickets saw an even greater decrease at 30% with nearly 50% fewer municipal court traffic tickets issued in 2018.

Davidson admitted it probably wasn't the result of Mesa County drivers becoming that much more observant and compliant, but rather an indication of the reduction in traffic patrol due to the department's staffing levels.

She said the GJPD hasn't had a dedicated traffic team for a number of years as the resources haven't been there to staff it properly.

"In years past, we had a dedicated traffic unit, mostly motorcycle officers, who did increased enforcement for traffic tickets, in areas with a high number of crashes for example," she said. "Right now we don't have that."

With the number of calls the department has to respond to, Davidson said the GJPD is unable to do more proactive enforcement.

"A decrease in DUIs is not an indicator of people drinking less," she said. "It's a result of officers having less time for proactive enforcement."

The GJPD is authorized for 124 sworn officers. As of today there are 114 sworn officers with the department, but only 99 of them are deployable. The other 15 are in training in the academy, on medical leave or alternate duty.

Of the nearly 160,000 incidents dispatched by the regional communications center, 50% were responded to by GJPD.

Some relief should be on the horizon for the department, however, as increased staffing is expected thanks to Grand Junction voters.

With the passage of 2B in April, the department secured $3.3 million annually (through a 0.50% sales tax increase) to cover 31 new positions at the department — 18 new sworn officers and additional civilian personnel.

The passage of 2B will authorize the department to have up to 142 sworn officers as of Jan. 1, 2020.

Davidson admitted it will take some time for the department to get up to that number.

The monthslong hiring process remains extensive for new GJPD officers as they must go through academy as well as departmental training.

She expects increased staffing will allow the department to do more targeted enforcement.

One thing that really helps the department's staff is the robust volunteer core committed to the GJPD every year.

Volunteers donated over 20,000 hours of their time to the department in 2018, which Davidson said can be critical in helping in a variety of ways.

Volunteers help set up speed trailers, or the slow down signs used on highways and in school zones, and are used in data entry and other tasks, providing critical support to the department.

"It's not even staffing shortages … it's their knowledge," Grand Junction Public Safety Volunteer Coordinator Jeannie Lewis said of the work volunteers do for the department. "We could not function without them."

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