Major crimes in Payson are down almost 50 percent for the year, but arrests for driving under the influence have jumped a sobering 84 percent — which could be driven by the increased use of illegal drugs.
Payson Police Chief Don Engler revealed the wildly varying statistics at Wednesday night’s community awareness meeting. Despite being three officers understaffed, the crime rate is down in town, although the number of DUI arrests is almost double from last year.
For the year, DUI arrests are up 84 percent, domestic violence arrests down 30 percent and burglaries down 97 percent, with four months of the year still unreported.
The town’s overall crime rate is at 25.8 index crimes per 1,000 residents, nearly half of what it was last year. Engler pointed out that last year, the crime index rose after a series of burglaries in December. With the holiday season approaching, the crime index may rise, but Engler is confident it will be lower than last year’s index.
“We are lower than many other communities,” Engler said. “The crime index is the true measure of the quality of life in a community.”
The index includes all crimes reported to the state Attorney General’s Office, including murders, rapes, robberies, aggravated assaults, burglaries, thefts and motor vehicle thefts.
Statistics for the first eight months of 2008 show domestic violence arrests down from 270 in 2007 to nearly 190, burglaries from 152 last year to only 77 thus far. The only upswing was in DUI arrests, with 272 for the first eight months, up from 148 in 2007.
“The initial news is good, hopefully we can keep burglaries down” Engler said. “But with the number of DUIs, a lot are not alcohol-, but drug-related, with methamphetamine being No. 1.”
Engler said he would look at what is driving up the number of DUIs despite Arizona having some of the nation’s strictest fines. Even first time offenders in Arizona must install an interlock ignition device for one year.
The police force is currently down three officers with three in training. The 27 active officers each must respond to more calls for service, with more than 20,000 calls to the department this year.
Given the smaller staff, Engler reminded residents to only use 911 for emergencies.
“911 is saved for true emergencies and serious incidents,” Engler said.
For non-emergencies, residents can call (928) 474-5177 or (928) 474-3288.
Also at the meeting, representatives from the Community Prevention Council of Northern Gila County reported on their programs and asked for more volunteers.
Patty Sneed with Rim Guidance Center said the group wants to be more active in the community, but they need the community to tell them what areas to work on.
Currently, the group is focusing on drug and alcohol awareness. Sneed warned that prescription drugs are fast becoming the drug of choice.
“Is your medicine cabinet the new drug dealer?” Sneed said. “The old way to get rid of unwanted prescription drugs was to flush them, but the correct way is to dump medications off at drop locations like pharmacies.”
The Community Prevention Council meets every month in the Payson Public Library conference room. For more information, call (928) 595-1570.