Summit County Sheriff’s office by the numbers
It’s difficult to measure success for a law enforcement agency. The number and diversity of crimes in a certain area is ever changing, and individuals can give different weight to measures like response time, community engagement, crime prevention and a myriad of other factors.
But one area where there’s actually hard data is clearance rates. The Colorado Bureau of Investigation collects data each year from hundreds of law enforcement agencies around the state, compiling clearance rates of crimes against individuals, property and society at large. Clearance rates are calculated by dividing the number of crimes that are cleared (charges are laid) by the number of total crimes recorded in the area. Along with clearance rates, the data also provides insights into how often the agency deals with certain crimes and the demographics of offenders and victims.
Based on the data, the Summit County Sheriff’s Office has stacked up relatively well over recent years when compared to the numbers for the entire state, and similar Western Slope communities.
From 2012-17 (data hasn’t been tallied for 2018), the Summit County Sheriff’s Office averaged a clearance rate of 34.4 percent, compared to a statewide average of just over 36 percent. This includes seemingly outlier years in 2013 and 2015 when rates were 15 percent and 45 percent respectively. For further reference, the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office also averaged just over 36 percent during that same period, and the Grand County Sheriff’s Office averaged just 18.3 percent from 2014-17 (no data before 2014).
Looking more closely at the numbers during Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons’ administration (June 2016 to December 2017) the clearance rates are actually slightly higher than average. Under FitzSimons, the office had a clearance rate of 37.4 percent through the end of 2017.
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The numbers also give some insight into which crimes are the most difficult for the Summit County Sheriff’s Office to solve, and which are priorities. For example, property crimes such as larceny and fraud tend to have much lower clearance rates than violent crimes like assault or drug crimes.
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Over the last two data years (2016-17) the sheriff’s office has cleared 50 percent of their violent crimes, including 48.5 percent of aggravated assaults and 57.5 percent of sex crimes. According to FitzSimons, not only are violent crimes more of a priority for the office, but considerably easier to solve.
“Obviously violent crimes are our priority over things like property crimes,” said FitzSimons. “But a lot of times they’re also crimes in progress, or if it’s a cold crime the victim typically knows who the suspect is or there’s DNA evidence. Violent crimes are usually the most problematic when victims won’t cooperate because the offender is a family member or a friend.”
The office has also been effective with drug crimes, clearing over 81 percent of drug narcotics violations and 73.5 percent drug narcotic equipment violations.
But the biggest struggle for the agency appears to be property crimes, which have noticeably lower clear rates than other crimes. The sheriff’s office has cleared an average of 12 percent of larceny crimes, 24 percent of burglaries and 11.5 percent of fraud cases from 2016-17. They did, however, clear more than 39 percent of motor vehicle thefts in that period.
FitzSimons said that the stark difference in clearance rates for theft and drug violations could be explained by opportunity for both criminals and law enforcement officials.
“Property crimes are historically the most difficult crimes to solve, and the easiest explanation is that they’re usually crimes of opportunity,” said FitzSimons. “If you’re breaking into cars, houses or businesses you’re not doing it while people are there. There’s rarely any evidence leading us to the identification of a suspect or suspects.
“Drug crimes are typically the opposite. Usually the reason why those cases are so easily closed is because when you’re making the arrest the person is already in possession of those narcotics.”
The data also reveals how often the sheriff’s office deals with specific crimes. While the most serious crimes like murder, manslaughter and rape typically aren’t dealt with often, vandalism, assault and larceny are common. From 2012-17, the agency has averaged more than 110 assault cases per year, a large majority of all violent crimes. In that same period the office averaged 172 larceny cases (not including theft of or from motor vehicles), more than 100 cases of destruction or vandalism of property and over 98 DUIs a year.
Meanwhile, the sheriff’s office averages about 15 rape cases every year and well under one murder.
In total, the sheriff’s office handles about 603 serious offenses, and about 470 lesser offenses (DUI, trespassing, disorderly conduct, etc.) each year, and averages just over 580 arrests every year.
“There’s a lot of great work that shouldn’t be overlooked that’s done in the field every day of the week,” said FitzSimons. “It’s not only the great work our detectives do in the criminal investigations section, but they also work closely with our patrol deputies on their cases. It’s truly a team effort.”
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