Sheriff: Jeffco seeing increase in violent crime

Lakewood mayor worries that situation is not sustainable

Paul Albani-Burgio
palbaniburgio@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 8/4/20

As law enforcement nationwide operates in an environment beset by issues ranging from the COVID-19 crisis and continuing unrest about racial justice and policing practices, Jefferson County’s …

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Sheriff: Jeffco seeing increase in violent crime

Lakewood mayor worries that situation is not sustainable

Posted

As law enforcement nationwide operates in an environment beset by issues ranging from the COVID-19 crisis and continuing unrest about racial justice and policing practices, Jefferson County’s sheriff says his department is now dealing with an increase in violent crimes across the county.

Sheriff Jeff Shrader said that recent violent crimes the sheriff’s office has dealt with include a homicide that took place two weeks ago, three attempted murders in the last four weeks and a murder-for-hire plot that is under investigation.

“All of those things lead to say there are things going on that are just a little bit different,” Shrader told the county commissioners during a quarterly report on July 28. “People are challenged, they are tired, tensions are higher in the community.”

The most recent quarterly county Law Enforcement Report, which covers April, May and June, shows a slight decrease in crime during those months compared to previous years. There were 929 eports of part 1 crimes, which include nine serious offenses such as burglary and assault, during those months.

That is down from the 950 reports in the second quarter of 2019 and the 974 during that quarter in 2018. Type 2 crimes, which include drug and weapons crimes, were also down from the same period in the last two years. One crime that was notably up was motor vehicle theft with 122 reports during the second quarter of 2020 compared to 67 in 2019 and 72 in 2018.

However, Shrader said the crime increases have been particularly observed in the last 45 days, a period which is mostly not reflected in the report.

Shrader said that increase in violent crime is occurring at a time when the jail population has been reduced by nearly half in recent months as a result of efforts to decrease the risk of the spread of COVID-19 in the jail.

In March, Shrader instituted new arrest standards at the jail which would exclude people arrested for certain types of crimes, including misdemeanor and municipal arrests, from being booked in. Those arrested for crimes that fall under the Victim’s Rights Act, such as murder, sex assault and domestic abuse, would still be booked into jail.

As a result of those new standards and other steps taken to reduce the jail population, dropped from around 1,000 at the onset of the COVID-19 crisis to around 540. However, even with those efforts continuing, the jail population had increased by 50 in the 10 days prior to July 28.

Adding to the issues is that Jeffco has had problems moving state prisoners into state institutions in a timely way. Shrader told the commissioners he has filed a lawsuit against the state department of corrections insisting that they take rightful prisoners. The state, which insists the county has a greater current ability to house those prisoners, has so far declined to settle that suit, Shrader said.

“The reality is we don’t have any great ability then what we have already exercised and some of that goes beyond what in normal circumstances I would be at all comfortable with,” said Shrader. “I’m sure other parts of criminal justice system, including the DA, clearly would agree that we are making decisions and alterations that we certainly don’t want to. And I think we are seeing some of that come back in terms of some of the violent crimes that are being experienced.”

Retirements on rise

Further complicating issues are a rash of retirements the department has seen recently.

According to Shrader, retirements are up 77% from a year ago and five more deputies are set to retire on Aug. 5. Shrader said many of those deputies are citing the national dialogue regarding policing the discouragement and lack of understanding they feel from of it as the reason for their retirement. Some also cited frustration with Colorado’s new policing law.

“At the beginning of this quarter there was applause for all the health care workers and public safety workers who would have to be at work while others would be staying home and working,” Shrader said. “By the end of the quarter, sentiment against law enforcement was deafening and, candidly, frustrating.”

In response to Shrader’s comments, Commissioner Casey Tighe said he felt the county needed to have a look at whether it was asking law enforcement to deal with too many issues when other solutions might be available and more appropriate.

He asked whether there is more the county could do to have mental health organizations assist law enforcement and also noted that the jail population had been “pretty big” before budget issues began forcing county to reduce it.

“We really need to be thinking about where does law enforcement fit with other activities to be the most effective,” said Tighe. “Because right now we have been asking law enforcement to handle all of it and was that really appropriate? I think we are dealing with cracks in the system because we haven’t been dealing with this in a holistic manner.”

But some Jeffco leaders say something more immediate needs to be done about the recent increase in violent crime and the inability to book inmates into the jail. During a meeting of county mayors with the commissioners on May 29, Lakewood Mayor Adam Paul brought up his concern that police departments not being able to take people they arrest on lesser offenses to jail is contributing to the increase in violent crime communities are seeing.

“I want to make sure that we are talking about this because it’s not a sustainable situation and god forbid somebody is going to get really hurt because somebody is not able to be lodged in an appropriate manner,” Paul said.

The commissioners agreed to host a meeting with the mayors and county law enforcement officials next month to discuss those issues.

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