A deadly March 14 shooting in Northglenn is just one more recent example of rising crime in the Northern Metro area, according to city chiefs of police. Chiefs in Northglenn, Thornton and Westminster …
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A deadly March 14 shooting in Northglenn is just one more recent example of rising crime in the Northern Metro area, according to city chiefs of police.
Chiefs in Northglenn, Thornton and Westminster said there are likely numerous factors behind the rise, including COVID-19.
“I can’t remember the exact number but I know that our county jail held 1200 prisoners and I know they reduced it all the way down to 500. I think that number is coming back up, but it’s been a challenge,” Northglenn Police Chief James May said. He noted jails around Colorado had to reduce prisoner populations during COVID shutdowns.
Westminster Interim Police Chief Norm Haubert and Thornton Police Chief Terrence Gordon both agreed a lag in the courts and decrease in the amount of prison inmates has affected crime rates.
As well, the actual virus itself.
“Police officers can catch viruses too, so contact with people was limited,” Gordon said.
On March 14, a 54-year-old male died from a gunshot wound after being shot on 11355 York St. According to a press release from Northglenn’s Police Department, the officers were advised that a male suspect stole the victim’s cell phone and shot him in the abdomen. The suspect was taken into custody.
Across Northglenn, Thornton and Westminster, violent crime has gone up over the past ten years, according to statistics from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. Since 2012, violent crime in Northglenn rose 162%, Thornton 29% and Westminster 28%.
That’s more than population increases, which was 5% in Northglenn, 7% in Westminster (from 2012-2020) and 15% in Thornton (2012-2020.)
Gordon said in Thornton, COVID-19 created a separation between the community and the police because business checks, officers talking in schools and other community engagement tactics were postponed.
Westminster’s Haubert explained that the economic impact of the pandemic also increased crime. And Gordon said economic opportunities is a major player in reducing — or increasing — crime.
“Economic opportunity, education, and community values. If we legitimately put our efforts into those things, taking out all of the other baggage and all the other things that come with political discussions, if we legitimately put our focus into those areas, I think we would be able to bend that curve down a little bit,” Gordon said.
With a lack of consequences for committing crimes, May said that has contributed to increased crime.
“Criminal trespass to a car went from a felony to a misdemeanor, so reducing the crimes or penalties, especially on guns, doesn’t make sense, especially when we’re seeing across the metro area, an increase in crime and we’re arresting individuals multiple times without any consequence by the courts,” May said.
May doesn’t think more people are committing crimes, but sees a small percentage of people repeatedly committing crimes.
“There’s no accountability for them to be held to a consequence and I think that’s the biggest thing,” he said.
To help come up with crime reduction tactics, May uses what he calls a Crime Triangle, with offenders, victims (residents) and location as the three sides
Right now, he says that putting offenders in jail is difficult, so he hopes to spend resources on educating the community to help be the eyes and ears of the department.
All three chiefs pointed to auto thefts rising in their jurisdiction. Gordon thinks that cars are too easy to steal, and those thefts affect lower-income folks the most. May and Haubert agree.
“It really is a hindrance on what a lot of people are trying to accomplish and maintaining a job and childcare and that type of stuff when they don’t have a ride,” Haubert said.
Haubert said it’s a factor in other crimes, like robberies and drug transactions. People committing those crimes don’t want to use their own cars.
“They’re going to want to defer that and make that as difficult as they can for us to follow up on,” he said.
Gordon points to property crime.
“Property crime, around the country and in the north metro area, which is what my concern is, is unacceptably high,” Gordon said.
“I don’t think the jails are the right place for someone with mental health (issues),” May said.
All three said that infrastructure for mental health-related crimes and calls are lacking. May said a place needs to exist where officers can take individuals with mental health crises for immediate care.
Chief Gordan thinks it needs to be a combined effort and the police department should not be responsible for seeking funding for mental health facilities.
“That therapist should already be there,” he said. “Someone needs to step in and give them and their families the services they need.”
Haubert said that police departments are facing labor shortages like every other industry.
As well, police officers aren’t viewed the same as in the past.
“I don’t think it’s a sought-after profession like it used to be,” said Haubert.
Gordon agrees and wants his department to be representative of those it serves. He said the reported percentage of the Hispanic population in Thornton is 38.5%, but the police force does reflect that.
“I’m fairly confident that we don’t have 40% officers of Hispanic descent on our police department,” he said. “In the 80s and 90s, you saw a huge influx of people of color and women coming to police departments, you don’t necessarily see that as much anymore.”
All three chiefs pointed to the attitude many people have towards police officers for trouble hiring and retaining officers. That attitude is mostly negative.
Gordon understands why.
“I was a young man of color a long time ago,” he said. “I didn’t like the police, I was afraid of the police and I guarantee you that that historical legacy is still there.”
Despite his previous views, he wanted to go into public service as a career and was hired as a police officer. He thinks he brings a unique and helpful perspective.
“I think there are many times when people are protesting their government, including the police, they got a point and we need to listen to what they’re saying,” he said.
All three chiefs expressed gratitude for the support they receive from their city council. However, state and federal legislation has not helped them, they think, as much.
“Depending on what side of the aisle you’re on, and how people want to point fingers at each other. All that’s a waste of time. But I do believe that decision-makers and policymakers are distracted and not necessarily paying attention to what’s going on in the neighborhoods,” Gordon said.
He says the polarization of the country shields people from seeing their shared values with one another.
“Now you have to have enemies, you have to be in a camp, you have to be against somebody, you have to be against something, you know and it’s just dysfunctional,” he said.
“We have become a political football, and at times the profession gets dragged into political discussions,” he said. “We are distracted by things that don’t matter in this country.”
One issue he brought up was bail reform. He thinks the discretion of prosecutors, court commissioners, magistrates, and judges have been taken out of the equation.
“I’m all for bail reform. I don’t think bail should be a poor person tax. But we can’t take the discretion of criminal justice professionals out of the system,” he said.
Gordon sees efforts to alleviate crime. He says the root causes of homelessness need to be addressed, as well as education.
“We already know that by a certain age, if kids have lower educational attainment by that age, then their peers that’s highly correlated with them becoming clients of the criminal justice system. We’ve known this for 20 years. What are we doing about it?” he said.
As well, he said the police serve the needs of the people and people need to be heard while the legislation is being written, not experts.
“Find out what the people in the neighborhoods want,” he said.
To solve crime rates, all three chiefs expressed teamwork among their departments and the community.
“We’re not going to solve every crime out there or prevent every crime by just us being out there. This is a partnership with the community and encouraging them that they see something to say something,” Haubert said.
He offered tips.
“Don’t leave valuables in the car,” he said. “Talk to the citizens of the community and prevent the crimes before they ever have an opportunity to be a victim of a crime.”
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