Despite a 120-percent increase in burglaries and a 22-percent increase in the overall crime rate in 2000, Payson Police Chief Gordon Gartner insists that Payson residents have little to fear.
"The little old lady living on Easy Street is doing fine," he said. "Just don't leave your keys in the ignition or your purse in the car. Use common sense."
In summing up the police department's annual report for 2000, Gartner said it was the first time in several years the community's crime rate has gone up.
A town's crime rate is determined by the number of index crimes that occur in a police jurisdiction during a one-year period. The Uniform Crime Reporting System defines index crimes as murder, non-negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, assault, burglary, larceny-theft, and arson.
Payson's crime rate in 2000 was 57.1 index crimes per 1,000 population. In 1999, it was 44.5, and the year before that, it was 54.3.
"This increase was driven entirely by a 173-percent increase in our burglary rate," Gartner said. "During the year 2000, we were plagued by several different groups and individuals who were very active in the area of breaking into vehicles."
The chief said burglars were walking away with car stereos, purses or anything that might have been left in the car. Police think those items were sold to fund the Rim country's growing methamphetamine trade.
The Gila County Narcotics Task Force in 2000 made 312 drug arrests an increase of 192 from the previous year and seized 686.26 grams of methamphetamine.
Another crime that plagued Rim country businesses last year was a string of burglaries that targeted various businesses, and their business checks.
"It was an organized group that hit businesses, breaking windows and stealing checks out of the back of their checkbooks," Gartner said. Statewide, in the last year, those bandits have hit businesses for a total of about $1 million.
"I contacted agencies in Show Low, Camp Verde, Cottonwood, Prescott, Prescott Valley ... they were all being hit with the same thing," Payson Police Det. Steve Johnson said when the story broke in February. "Apparently it's well organized. And, for whatever reason, the checks are always written for $977 or $987 always under $1,000."
Other crime categories that saw slight increases in 2000 include:
Assault from 131 in 1999 to 152 in 2000;
Theft from 371 in 1999 to 446 in 2000;
Arson from 3 in 1999 to 6 in 2000;
Disorderly conduct from 229 in 1999 to 242 in 2000;
DUI from 157 in 1999 to 176 in 2000.
The good news, the chief said, is that there were no homicides last year, rape and sexual offense remained steady at 5, and robbery and car thefts decreased.
Still, the chief encourages residents to use common sense in protecting themselves and their homes against crime.
"Around your home, alarms are a good idea, and security lighting and good locks go a long way toward discouraging burglars," the chief said. "If you own a business, take your checkbook with you when you leave."
If merchants are unsure of their building's security, Gartner said he'd be happy to talk with them and inspect their security measures. For more information, call the police department at 474-5177.