Summit County felony cases on the rise, reflecting statewide violent crime trends
September 28, 2017
There used to be a time in Summit County when the interludes between the winter and summer high seasons were a lull in activity for most people, cops included.
Increasingly, though, the action doesn't let up.
"At the end of each season things would slow down, but the trend in the past few years is that it's steady year-round," Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons said.
Since 2015, mid-year felony case filings have gone up annually at the district attorney's office. By June 30 this year, there were 460 compared with 408 the year before and 390 in 2015.
The trend, authorities say, is part of a wider pattern of rising crime rates across the state coupled with steady development in Summit.
"We continue to become increasingly urban, and our population is growing," District Attorney Bruce Brown said. "Statewide, there is a significant trend of increased serious crime and criminal filings. We are part of that wave, but fortunately not in the peak statistically."
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The crime rate in Colorado went up by 3.4 percent per 100,000 people last year, according to Colorado Bureau of Investigation data. That was driven in part by violent crime, which has also seen an uptick in Summit County, although much less pronounced than in urban areas.
"It's related to statewide numbers because we get a little bit of bleed over from everything they get in the city," FitzSimons said.
So far this year, 64 of 345 arrests at the Summit County Jail were for violent crimes, especially domestic violence and assault, a review of jail information logs shows. Many are related to substance abuse and mental illness.
"I read the sergeant's logs every night, and domestic violence and assaults definitely seem to be more common," FitzSimons said. "On almost every call if you scratch deep enough you'll find a mental health nexus or a substance abuse issue."
As an example, Fitzsimons referenced a recent episode where a welfare check on a man who was reported to be suicidal led to a brawl involving five sheriff's deputies, two of whom were injured.
According to an arrest affidavit for that case, a person close to the suspect called police after he had sent her suicidal messages. When deputies arrived on scene, the man was drunk and combative.
Deputies eventually subdued him after a scuffle on his front porch, the affidavit says, and he was charged with second-degree assault on a police officer, obstructing a peace officer and resisting arrest.
The most common felony cases in Summit County are physical assaults, theft and drug cases, Brown said. Like FitzSimons, he pointed to substance abuse as a contributing factor.
"We live in a pretty permissive community with a relaxed attitude to substance abuse," he said. "Substance abuse and mental health issues are the number one contributors to criminal and delinquent behavior."
A big chunk of the crime authorities deal with, however, simply has to do with the number of people passing through and visiting Summit County, which has been increasing every year by virtually every metric.
"A large amount of crime is attributable to short-term residents who don't see themselves as truly connected to the community or visitors who do stuff which is much more stupid than they ever would do under their mother's watchful eyes," Brown said.
A lot of those visitors come from the Denver Metro area, which is experiencing rapid growth. Some of that expansion, it seems, is practically absorbing Summit.
"Often you'll hear people visiting from there refer to Summit County as 'Denver West,'" FitzSimons said.
The High Country isn't seeing a huge rash of crime, although it is certainly on a steady, upward trajectory. In the context of what's happening elsewhere in the state, authorities here say it's still good to live in Summit.
"We are seeing a much more gradual increase in crime," Brown said. "Many areas in Colorado are seeing a huge uptick, ours is not nearly as concerning. However, we have to recognize that people inclined to break law don't just act out near their home but will travel far and wide to complete their crimes. We need to be concerned not just about what is happening in our backyard but what is happening in our neighbor's as well."
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