Major crimes in Payson in 2010 jumped 7 percent, ending a three-year decline.
The Payson Police Depart-ment recorded an increase in five categories of violent crime — domestic violence, rape, robbery, aggravated assault and theft.
Only burglary and motor vehicle thefts decreased, falling 11 and 12 percent respectively.
Police Chief Don Engler said he was disappointed to see the town’s uniform crime index rise, especially after it had steadily fallen for the last few years.
“I was hoping it would drop or at least stay the same,” he said.
The police force faced a host of difficulties through the year that Engler said contributed to the increases, including six months of furloughs, a smaller budget, a shortage of officers and a complete turnover in the records and dispatch departments.
On top of internal strains, Engler said the dreary economy drove thefts and domestic violence calls up.
“It is a sign of the times being as difficult as it is,” he said.
As more people lose their jobs or get their hours cut, frustration grows, especially when substance abuse is involved. People sometimes turn violent and take their frustration out on their spouses, he said.
In 2010, domestic violence calls increased 6 percent and arrests from those calls rose 8 percent from 2009.
Domestic violence calls are one of the most dangerous for officers. With emotions running high and alcohol or drugs involved, officers face an increased possibility of violence.
“I would say 85 to 90 percent of domestic violence calls involve substance abuse,” Engler said.
Read a woman’s dramatic story on domestic violence in Tuesday’s paper.
Along with domestic violence, assaults increased 18.4 percent last year. Rapes increased from two to three incidents and robberies from one to three incidents.
Strangely, while burglaries and motor vehicle thefts fell 11.3 and 7 percent respectively, thefts increased 5.4 percent.
Overall, residents reported 675 crimes in 2010, an increase of 44 crimes over 2009.
“These statistics translate into an index crime rate of 43.5 crimes per 1,000. This is a slight increase from 2009 at 42.6,” he said. “However, I think it is explainable with the increased call load and the challenges under which the officers of the PPD were working considering the lack of personnel.”
While Engler said he is thrilled to see burglary numbers decrease, he is alarmed that thefts have risen. “These are more opportunistic thefts,” he said.
Another area of disappointment for Engler was the number of citations issued. Civil and criminal citations along with DUI arrests fell 35 percent. A shortage of officers meant they did not have the time to make traffic stops.
“Working as short as we are, officers don’t have time for traffic citations,” he said.
The department lost its traffic citation officer earlier in the year to retirement and throughout the year the department operated two officers short. In June, it will lose another officer to retirement.
Although it has held several open recruitments, the department has found no qualified applicants to fill those positions. Recently, one applicant was sent to the academy and could join the force in a few months.
The department is authorized for 33 officers, but has operated at 28 for the last two years. In addition, for half of the year, staff was required to take furlough days.
For 2011, Engler said his No. 1 goal is getting the PPD adequately staffed, but with the pay scale on the lower end among agencies, this could prove difficult.
“We are always interested in hiring from the local community,” he said.
Among staffing changes in 2010, the dispatch and records department swapped two employees. Dispatchers Celena Ortiz and Elizabeth Lacey moved to records while Jill Van Camp and Sherri Moore moved to communications.
Dispatchers fielded 28,260 calls for the year, 7.7 percent more than the previous year. The records division transcribed and processed roughly 150 reports a week.
With fewer officers and Donny Garvin’s demotion, the patrol division was stressed.
“2010 was a year to operate by the famous words, ‘Adapt and overcome,’” Engler said.
Officers tried to make a new squad system work where officers were brought on at varied times, but this strategy proved not right for the department. With some officers operating under two supervisors in one shift, coverage is maximized, but teamwork is not.
In April, the PPD will go back to a standard squad system where two officers and a supervisor start at roughly the same time. Under this schedule, officers can work together on projects.
Continued work with the community will only help the department reach its goals.
“It is my opinion that the community has become part of the police department and understands the challenges the personnel of the department see on a daily basis,” he said.
Although some crimes are up, Engler believes people still feel secure in Payson.
“It is unfortunate these statistics are up and those are things we have to work at, but I think people still feel safe in our community,” he said.