Crime Rate Drops, Response Times Rise

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Payson's crime rate has dropped slightly in the past year, but burglaries are up.

The statistics on the community's criminal activities during 2001 will be published next week in the Payson Police Department's Annual Report.

Chief Gordon Gartner shared a draft of the report with the Payson Roundup this week and talked about some of the information it includes.

The burglary rate in 2000 saw a 173 percent increase over the previous year and in 2001 that rate continued to grow. Last year the PPD investigated 117 cases of burglary.

"I believe that most of these crimes are directly related to a methamphetamine addiction problem in the community," Gartner said in the report.

To address the drug problem, and as a result, the burglary problem, the police received financial backing from the town council in February to institute a Methamphetamine Enforcement Program.

The report's graph on meth arrests shows only 58 for 2001, which is down from 84 in 2000.

Lt. Donald Engler explained the drop in arrests was due to the department assigning its drug enforcement officers to the Gila County Narcotics Task Force for most of 2001.

Since they were required to work throughout the county, local enforcement efforts suffered.

Engler said that was the primary reason the department pulled its officers out of the task force in July.

With the department's drug enforcement officers returning their focus to Payson, there have been at least 35 meth arrests since the beginning of the year, Engler said.

Another increase was seen in the traffic-related problems in residential neighborhoods. This is attributed to the additional traffic and congestion on Highways 87 and 260, due to the new four-lane highway from the East Valley to Payson.

The plan to address this problem includes instituting a new traffic enforcement program in the residential neighborhoods of the town this summer. Gartner said the department will be putting patrol units on residential streets to deal with speeding problems. He said the department also wants to work on the red light violations at the intersection of 87 and 260.

The one wrinkle in these plans is the lack of manpower the department is continuing to face. Gartner said all of last year and for a large part of the previous year, they have been three to four officers short. He said this was due to a variety of reasons: retirement, illness, training, vacations, etc.

When there is a full patrol force, the department has 16 officers available. On average, only 12 were in service during 2001.

With that manpower situation, the department's patrol personnel were more than 100 percent busy last year, Gartner said.

The chief said the personnel problem also has created a concern about response time. It takes officers an average of 10.3 minutes to respond to an emergency call; 20.2 minutes to get to an urgent call; more than half-an-hour to get to routine calls; and 39 minutes to respond in a community service incident.

Gartner attributes the response time to having his officers too thinly spread around the town.

The personnel issue also is at the root of the statistics showing a drop in arrests, Gartner said.

During 2001, there were 920 adult arrests, compared to a five-year average of 1,067 per year, and 308 juvenile arrests. The five-year average is 390 per year.

To help address the personnel issue, the department has successfully applied for $6,000 grant from the Governor's Office of Highway Safety to pay for the officers' overtime.

The department also has applied for a Federal Community Oriented Policing Services grant to bring three new officers onto the force.

Gartner said they should know if the application was successful this fall, but there is still a problem with having the budget to meet the local match.

"We are trying to stay competitive in a market that is really moving. We pay our officers between $32,000 and $33,000 a year, while in Mesa they can make $45,000," Gartner said.

Another plan to deal with the manpower issue is to make more use of the volunteers on actual calls for service, he said.

"They're a great group of people. We actually have more volunteers than paid personnel."

The Payson Police Department's annual report is available at the police station, for a nominal charge.

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