The Payson Police Department's recently released 2003 annual report has mixed news for residents on the town's crime rates. While major crimes have remained fairly steady, there is an increasing demand for police services.
"Every year, we have seen an increase not only in people moving here, but people visiting from places like the Valley," Payson Police Chief Gordon Gartner said. "So we have more calls for service now than in previous years."
Gartner said the report, usually released in April, was delayed due to ongoing projects including the planned overhaul of the department's dispatching system.
The report shows that calls for service have jumped by about 2,500 since 2001.
"It seems like every weekend is busy and there is just more activity around town, which means more need for police services," Gartner said. "It may mean accidents or disturbances."
Major crimes such as homicide, sexual assault, robbery and burglary are up slightly from last year to 698 in 2003, but show a decrease from the all-time high in 2000 of 742.
"We continue to see an improvement in areas such as burglaries which comes from our strong enforcement posture -- especially our drug enforcement," Police Lt. Don Engler said. "As long as we keep putting the pressure on, we will see improvement."
"What's interesting is the crime rate has remained the same over the past five years, except for the spike in 2000, which we attribute to our meth problem," Gartner said. "We still have a meth problem, but some of those people are in prison now."
Adult arrests are up slightly while juvenile arrests are down. According to the report, 413 juveniles were arrested in 2002, compared to 318 in 2003.
"We'd like to think that our school resource officers are having a positive influence there," Engler said. "We saw the biggest drop in minor consumption and disorderly conduct arrests."
Drug enforcement activity appeared steady from 1999 to 2003, except for in 2002, when drug arrests spiked at more than double the average at 467.
"That's when we were just implementing our Meth Enforcement Program and that's why we saw a spike in 2002," Engler said. "But the dealers and drug users learn what our tactics are and get more cautious. It's a continuing challenge for us to maintain a high level of enforcement activity because we have to change our strategy."
"We knew we would see that spike in 2002," Gartner said. "We really made an impact."
Engler said when MEP started, officers served 65 search warrants and cleaned-up at least six meth labs. Dealers caught on to what the police were doing.
"There have been some changes in (drug dealers') style of drug sales in the community over the last couple of years and when we first implemented the program, they were not used to such strong enforcement," Engler said. "It's like bird hunting -- right at the beginning of the season it's pretty easy pickings, but when they get used to things, they get smarter."
Engler said he believes drug activity has decreased overall.
"I do think it's better than it was in 2002," he said. "When dealers start feeling that strong pressure of enforcement, they move to other communities or other states. Quite a few of them are in the department of corrections."
Engler said meth continues to be the most common drug.
"We have some marijuana," Engler said. "We're starting to hear more about heroin again, but methamphetamine is still the biggest problem we have."
There's good news on the domestic violence front, police say, as the number of cases declined in 2003 by 42 cases from the previous year.
"Arresting perpetrators of domestic violence and having a no-tolerance policy is having an effect," Engler said. "If there is probable cause, we are going to make the arrest. You have to take action."
Engler said changes in the law also have had an impact on domestic violence arrests. Repeat offenders can now be charged with aggravated domestic violence which can mean jail time.
"I think our county attorney (Daisy Flores) is very interested in domestic violence," Gartner said. "If she has a good case -- one that she can prosecute as a felony -- she's on it."
"The reduction (in domestic violence cases) can also be attributed to a communitywide effort," Engler said. "The department has many partners who contribute greatly to our success of reducing domestic violence."
Driving under the influence
One area that concerns Gartner and Engler is the rise in DUI arrests. In fact, 2003 arrests marked a five-year-high at 219.
"There was a 21 percent increase in the number of DUI cases the department handled," Engler said. "We are seeing a large number of people who continue to drink and drive. DUI enforcement continues to be a challenge and we will focus our efforts during the next year in an effort to control this growing concern."
Engler said residents will see more DUI saturation patrols in 2004.
"Another factor to the rise in DUI arrests is that we have a few more officers on the street than in previous years. We have more officers out there looking for DUIs," Gartner said. "The other thing is that almost all of our officers are now trained in advanced DUI detection."
Outlook for the future
Gartner said he is already seeing results of having a traffic enforcement officer out on the road.
"This year, we will see a significant increase in traffic citations," Gartner said. "We have already seen about a 14 percent drop in accidents. The word is out that we are serious about maintaining reasonable speed limits and making sure people are stopping at stop lights."
Gartner said he is now working on a three- to five-year strategic plan for his department.
"We are doing some analysis -- looking at calls, crime rates and the cost of services," Gartner said.
"In the plan, we will be establishing some of our goals for the coming years."