As your police chief, I believe it’s important to ensure that the citizens we serve are kept informed about crime within our community. For this reason, I’d like to convey some policing challenges we’ve been facing over the last year.
In 2020, violent crime in Grand Junction increased by 36% over the previous year. That is a 36% increase in crimes like serious assaults, robberies, rape, and homicide. Assaults on police officers have seen an even larger increase. Over the past 10 years, we averaged 18 assaults on our peace officers each year. In 2020, that number rose to 89. That’s an increase of 395%.
Over the course of just four days last month, our officers and detectives began the work of investigating three shootings in our community:
Our officers and detectives are working diligently to address crime in this community. In 2020, our SWAT team was called out to critical incidents over 20 times, with each responding SWAT operator averaging over five hours of time per call. In the past six months alone, our patrol officers have worked more than 3,700 hours of overtime. In 2020, our investigations unit averaged 149 hours of overtime each month. These employees get called out at all times of the day and night to address danger and violence in this city, and the subsequent hours poured into investigations in an effort to lead to successful prosecutions are staggering.
However, the safety of our community can’t be achieved by responding patrol officers and detectives alone. It takes the efforts of an engaged community in partnership with a comprehensive and robust criminal justice response to make a difference. Unfortunately, 2020 saw setbacks in that area. It’s changed the way we police. Jail standards have changed, making it difficult to remove dangerous offenders from our streets. State legislation in the form of Senate Bill 21-62 has now been introduced which will seriously impact an officer’s ability to even make an arrest for certain crimes, taking discretion out of the hands of the men and women who patrol our streets every day. I, along with many other police chiefs, as well as victims of crime, testified last week to our legislators to express our strong opposition to this harmful legislation, but that fight has just begun.
Officers routinely contact individuals with active warrants for their arrest, but those offenders are often turned away at the jail and released. Serious offenders who are arrested and booked into the jail are commonly released and continue to commit crimes. In 2020, 144 firearms were reported missing in Grand Junction, a 40% increase over the previous year. Calls for service involving shots fired were up 27%. Combine all of these factors together, and we land where we are with the current state of policing and criminal activity in our area.
These are not anecdotal concerns. Examples of holes in our current state of policing are all too easy to find:
These facts are only part of a much larger discussion; the numbers do not fully tell the story of the issues contributing to a systemic breakdown of our law enforcement process which ultimately leads to violence in our community.
One key priority is all too often overlooked in these conversations; the victims of crime. Our compassionate victim advocates volunteer their time to respond to scenes where they comfort victims, offer support and resources, and see firsthand the trauma caused by crime. They can attest that those voices are not being heard. Victims deserve our best community effort to bring peace to hurting families and justice to perpetrators of crime. That should be the expectation of any citizen, regardless of whether they have been personally affected by crime.
So, where to do we go from here? The Grand Junction Police Department continues to recruit exceptional candidates to put on the badge and serve this community. Since January of 2020, we have hired 24 men and women to do just that. Additionally, we’ve doubled down on retention efforts to ensure that we are retaining the high quality officers who currently work here. In late 2020, we formed a Special Investigations Unit intended to implement more targeted policing strategies as a team. We continue to explore and invest in innovative strategies that empower our officers to do their jobs effectively.
Our commitment hasn’t wavered; we will continue to police with honor and distinction, to enhance community safety, reduce fear of crime, and elevate the quality of life in Grand Junction. But we are not in this alone. We need community members to pay attention to what’s happening around them, locally, statewide, and nationally. Ask questions, seek accurate information, and don’t be a part of spreading a narrative that is half-truth, at best. Support your local law enforcement personnel; they are your friends, your neighbors, your peers, and they are doing the best that they can to serve you. We appreciate the wonderful citizens in this community; the good exponentially outweighs the bad. We look forward to moving forward, continuing to make improvements in Grand Junction, and building relationships that are stronger than ever.