Wind Sprints: Is Summit County becoming a victim of its own success? (column)
August 19, 2016
"The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons," Russian sourpuss Fyodor Dostoevsky once wrote.
I would add county jails and highways to that quote. In the Friday edition of the Summit Daily, our new crime reporter Jack Queen talked with Summit's top lawmen about a dramatic spike in arrests this year.
Interim Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons summed it up well: "More visitors, more calls, more arrests." Not to be outdone, Silverthorne police chief John Minor put it even more succinctly: "More people, more problems."
Law officers are on the front lines of every major issue affecting the county: Whether it's mental health, legalization of marijuana or increased tourism. You name it — they deal with it first. Want to know what's really going on in a community? Talk with a street cop.
The numbers tell the story.
The sheriff's office has made 301 arrests as of June 30. With six more months on the calendar, that's setting a brisk pace that will easily eclipse the 473 arrests made in 2015. It will certainly dwarf the 347 arrests made back in 2014. Breckenridge is seeing an even greater jump in its crime stats. So far this year, officers have made more than 660 arrests. Last year's total? 404.
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So what's behind this trend? The Breckenridge police chief cited ski pass fraud enforcement and kids buying marijuana with fake IDs as a few of the reasons. The big driver, though, seems to be an increase in the local population and in visitor traffic.
Our county government reporter Kevin Fixler recently noted that the number of cars passing west through the Eisenhower Tunnel is smashing records and will continue to do so.
An unprecedented 1.3 million cars passed through the tunnel in July. If you've left your house this summer, you felt the spray of that surge as it spilled into Summit County. Just go to the Frisco Marina this afternoon to get a sense of just how crowded it's become lately.
Surely, this will continue to happen as along as Denver continues to see its population boom at more than two-and-a-half times the national average. That translates into 1,100 new people a week. These people aren't moving to Denver for its views of the Eastern Plains.
As a tourism-based economy, we're supposed to applaud the tide that raises all boats. However, Summit County Commissioner Thomas Davidson shrewdly pinpointed why this tsunami of visitors also has a downside.
"It's great to see those activity levels, but it makes me think of the needs of those workers to serve all the additional people coming here — whether it's restaurants, kitchens, housekeeping, retail," he said.
A phrase I've seen over the past few years in our comment section is that Summit County is becoming "a victim of its own success." OK, so it's not Dostoevsky, but it seems apt, given the staggering statistics we're now seeing.
Even deaths are on the rise, including more suicides and auto fatalities.
As chief Minor said, more people will mean more problems. And since we aren't sealing up the tunnel in the near future, it's time we start owning the reality and hammering out solutions. That will mean more funding for police work. It will mean more support for the mentally ill. And it will mean expanding our road infrastructure. We built it, they came and they will keep on coming.
Ben Trollinger is the managing editor of the Summit Daily News. Contact him at (970) 668-4618 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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