"2004 was a good year," Payson Police Department Commander Don Engler said as he ran down a list of the town's most recent crime and accident statistics.
"Compared to the other communities our size, we already have a very low crime index rate and we have even seen a slight drop in 2004," Engler said. "Even while the town has grown considerably."
According to the department's 2004 annual report, traffic accidents, burglaries, vehicle thefts and DUIs decreased in 2004. There was one homicide in 2004, which Engler said is the average for Payson.
Engler said the most dramatic decline has been in traffic accidents, a number which has gone down for the second year in a row.
"We are pleased to report that in 2004 we have had another drop in traffic accident rate in the community and we believe it's related to our traffic enforcement program," Engler said. "We dropped 12 percent on non-injury accidents and an additional 7 percent in injury accidents for a total of 19 percent in 2004. That's pretty impressive because in most communities, the accident rate is increasing not decreasing."
Grants from the Governor's Office of Highway Safety have funded overtime pay for officers to participate in traffic enforcement details, which focus on traffic light and school zone violations. The department also has one officer dedicated to traffic enforcement five days a week.
Burglary and vehicle theft
For the second year in a row, burglaries and vehicle thefts have decreased in town, Engler said.
"A drop in burglaries and vehicle thefts is almost unheard of in communities across the state and we think that is tied to our methamphetamine enforcement program that has been so successful over the past few years," Engler said. "We dropped from 66 burglaries in 2003 to 51 in 2004. Motor vehicle theft has dropped considerably in Payson -- from 23 in 2003 to 15 in 2004."
Engler said the decrease is an indication that the department's aggressive stance on drug dealers, manufacturers and users has been effective.
Engler said he believes there is less meth on the streets now than in previous years and, as a result, fewer burglaries and thefts.
"At one time prior to the methamphetamine enforcement program we had burglars who were trading stolen goods for meth. There was no money involved, just stolen items," he said. "So theft and burglaries are a good measure of how we are doing in drug enforcement."
In a two-day period, Payson police rounded up 23 suspected drug dealers and users.
Domestic violence on the rise
Engler said domestic violence is one crime that was on the rise in 2004.
"We were seeing a drop for the first few months of 2004, but toward the end of the year, we saw an increase," Engler said.
Domestic abuse cases rose from 368 in 2003 to 404 in 2004.
"That's more than one a day right here in our community," Engler said. "We take a real firm approach with domestic violence. If there is probable cause to make an arrest, we make the arrest. We try to work with Rim Guidance and the Time Out Shelter and all the community organizations because it is not just a police problem, it's a community problem."
One trend over the past year is an increase in juveniles committing domestic violence offenses, the commander said.
"We went from 318 juvenile arrests in 2003 to 390 in 2004," Engler said. "Some of those were minor consumption arrests --some were domestic violence and criminal damage. Even though we have the movie theater and the bowling alley, we are still hearing that there are not enough activities for the youth."
DUIs dropped from 219 in 2003, to 217 in 2004.
"We held steady," Engler said. "A number that remains high shows that it is still a problem, but one that has gotten attention."
Officers receive training to identify intoxicated drivers and participate in DUI saturation patrols on major holidays.
Patrol officers responded to nearly 20,000 calls in 2004.
"Most people don't recognize the number of calls the Payson Police Department receives," Engler said. "Last year we had 19,792 calls for service. Spread that out between 18 people and that is a pretty heavy case load. Calls are up from 19,081 in 2003."
Besides responding to calls, officers, staff and volunteers keep several community-oriented programs going.
Officers provide drug resistance education to elementary school children, gun safety education to adults and assist residents in organizing neighborhood block watch groups.
Volunteers run the Police Access to the Homebound (PATH) program by calling homebound individuals to make sure they are OK. If there is no answer, a volunteer or an officer drives to their home to check on their welfare.
According to Engler, Payson lives up to its reputation as a safe town where the police department has a visible presence and a good rapport with the community.
"We are always looking at what more we can do to improve things," he said. "But I think we can be proud of what we have accomplished."