As the economic activity fell across the Rim Country for a second year, some may assume crime would rise, as more people have time to commit crimes and an increased motive to do so.
However, for the third straight year, Payson’s crime index fell in 2009, validating studies showing no clear relationship between crime and the economy.
In the past two years, crime has dropped 11 percent in Payson even as the number of officers declined 6 percent. The only areas that showed a worrisome trend were assaults and burglaries, which rose 35 percent and 15 percent respectively in 2009.
According to the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, “There is very little conclusive research on the relationship between crime and the economy.
“Economic hardships may motivate certain crimes, but the relationship between the two is far from automatic or predictable.”
The study goes on to say that crime rates take no notice of a recession and continue on trend regardless if the economy is booming or busting.
This held true in Payson in 2009, with the crime rate falling along with domestic violence and theft calls.
Last week, the Payson Police Department released its annual report of crime statistics. The report says that while the department’s call volume rose 8 percent (26,233 in 2009 to 24,233 in 2008), the crime index dropped 4 percent.
The crime index compares the number of serious crimes, such as murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft and arson with the population.
In 2008, the crime index sat at 44.4 and in 2007, 47.9 — an 11 percent drop since the recession hit.
As the crime rate dropped in 2009, so did the number of thefts, domestic violence calls, traffic accidents, DUIs and citations issued.
This is “a considerable accomplishment, in light of the fact the department faced significant challenges,” said Police Chief Don Engler.
Challenges included a cut in funding, fewer officers, two sergeants retiring and furlough days, ultimately meaning fewer officers patrolling the streets.
The department has dealt with three straight years of budget cuts by cutting training, overtime and waiting to hire an additional officer.
Currently, the PPD has 29 officers, a decrease from 31 in 2008.
Although the department is authorized to have 30 officers, Engler said he is waiting to see if the state cuts grant funds to the school resource officers program, which currently funds the salaries of Dave Vaughn and Jared Meredith. If funding is cut, the PPD will have to absorb Vaughn and Meredith.
“It is getting harder to make the cuts,” Engler said. So far, no one has been laid off.
Regarding the statistics, Engler said he is pleased to see domestic violence calls have fallen, especially since they jumped 86 percent in 2008, while in 2009, they fell 9 percent.
Engler cannot account for the decline, but feels outreach programs are working.
Outreach programs on drunk driving are also working, he believes. Officers reported seeing an increased number of designated drivers throughout the year, which “is tremendous,” Engler said.
Statistically, DUIs fell 31 percent in 2009. While more people may be using a designated driver, Engler believes this number is misleading and gives residents a false sense of security.
DUI arrests are “often directly related to the amount of time that patrol officers have to participate in on-view activity patrol,” he said. “As the call load increases and the number of patrol hours remains the same, it leaves less time for the pursuit of DUI offenders.”
Since fewer officers are on the street at any one time due to furlough and overtime cuts, officers are essentially missing drunk drivers.
“Although residents call in drunk drivers, the majority of DUI calls come from patrol,” he added.
With four fewer officers on patrol due to reassignments, the number of citations issued dropped 39 percent compared with 2008. In addition, Engler believes response time to non-emergency calls also increased in 2009, but he does not have the data available to support this theory.
The areas that Engler is troubled to see a call increase in are assault and burglary. The department is working hard to “make sure burglaries don’t get out of hand.”
The majority of burglaries and thefts are centered off Highway 87 and in the southwest corner of town, which has been the trend for years.
With an increased number of calls in 2009, the records department was busy typing a record number of reports. Two clerks and a supervisor typed on average 30 reports a day, with each report approximately 10 pages.
The PPD K-9 celebrated the retirement of Kodiak and the new arrival of Dex. Officer John Huss works with Dex and during the year, the team conducted narcotic searches including 49 vehicles, nine buildings and multiple baggage searches. The duo also assisted with five narcotic search warrants and four searches requested by the Payson Unified School District.