Richard Myers, the Appleton, Wis., police chief accepting the same post in Colorado Springs next month, will face a strong challenge immediately in the form of violent crime.
In the first half of 2006, violent crime skyrocketed here, according to preliminary crime statistics released earlier this month by the FBI. There were 1,047 total murders, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults in Colorado Springs, as compared with 798 in the same period in 2005. That's an astonishing 31 percent increase, and robberies, which more than doubled, led the way.
Police Lt. Rafael Cintron says detectives in the department's robbery unit have found that more and more of their suspects are addicted to methamphetamine, and are motivated by a need to support that addiction. But he can't explain all the increases, which also include a 25 percent increase in aggravated assaults and an 8 percent increase in rapes.
"There is no one factor that we can attribute to the rise in crime," he says.
Though it's too early to say whether the trend has continued through the second half of 2006, a check of the police blotter over a recent five-day period indicates that officers regularly grapple with violent crime.
- On Dec. 19, there are two robberies. In one, a suspect, a prison parolee, is arrested at Penrose Hospital with a gunshot wound to his abdomen following an alleged home invasion that apparently went awry.
- On Dec. 17, police contend with an intoxicated and reportedly suicidal man with a gun. The man threatens to shoot police and others before hiding in a bedroom. Police arrest the man without harm. He is charged with felony menacing, and police confiscate several guns.
- On the same day, a man kicked out of Casa Grande nightclub at 2493 S. Academy Blvd. draws a large-caliber gun and fires five shots at a security guard before fleeing. The guard is unscathed.
- Also that day, three women with handguns rob the Domino's Pizza at 1102 N. Circle Drive for cash. They escape.
- On Dec. 16, an argument at an apartment building over noise escalates when a man pulls a knife and cuts the victim's neck and thigh.
- Also that day, two women with handguns rob the Taco Express at 1455 S. Nevada Ave. for cash, and escape.
- On Dec. 15, police find a 30-year-old man shot while in a hotel room. The man dies at Memorial Hospital.
The rest of the nation saw a roughly 4 percent rise in violent crime for a second straight year. Most other major Colorado cities, including Pueblo and Denver, actually saw violent crimes fall.
Mary Dodge, a professor of criminal justice for the University of Colorado at Denver, is stunned by the Colorado Springs statistics. She theorizes the rise is likely the result of myriad strains on police departments, courts, jails and programs that help criminals turn their lives around.
The city police department which added only one new officer in 2005 and none this year appears stretched, given the city's booming population, she says. She also says parole and probation programs are overwhelmed with cases.
"We're building more prisons, but it's never enough," Dodge says. "Meanwhile, people coming out of prisons aren't offered good re-entry programs to keep them from reverting to crime or drugs that lead them to commit crimes for money."
Cintron agrees that the department, which patrols 180 square miles, could use more officers. "I don't think you'll find any department that will say it has enough officers."
But he also notes that the city has budgetary constraints. For instance, a 4/10-cent public safety sales tax, passed in 2001 to help police funding grow, is reaching capacity. When Myers starts work, Cintron says, the new chief likely will take a closer look at trends in the city's crime to determine whether the department's resources need to be shifted to address problems.
The statistical bad news comes in the same month that Officer Kenneth Jordan was killed in the line of duty. Earlier this year, Jared Jensen, another officer, was shot to death while pursuing a suspect.