Payson police noted an overall increase in the 2013 crime rate with a jump in thefts and assaults. The report also suggested an alarming increase in rape cases, but a closer look at the numbers revealed flaws in the department’s reporting system.
Overall, the crime rate rose about 20 percent between 2012 and 2013. Violent and property crimes rose from 43 to 48 per 1,000 residents, according to the 26-page annual report.
Police Chief Don Engler attributes most of that to a jump in opportunistic thefts, with thieves checking for unlocked doors on vehicles and homes and taking whatever they can, often resulting in a low-dollar loss. Drug users are often the culprits.
“Our community continues to be challenged with a persistent methamphetamine use and also now a resurging heroin problem, which requires considerable amounts of time from the patrol staff as well as the narcotics and investigation divisions,” he said. “These two drug problems continue to be the driving force behind the majority of the criminal activity occurring in our community.”
A breakdown of drug arrests reveals the majority, 195, was for possession of drug paraphernalia, but heroin/meth arrests were closely behind with 178. Police made 109 marijuana arrests and just 10 for prescription drugs (some arrests included more than one charge).
Engler said the continued use of narcotics is troublesome. Many crimes ultimately connect back to the use of meth or heroin.
The report also reported a rise in rape cases, from zero in 2012 to five in 2013.
The Roundup asked for the police reports on all the reported rape cases in 2013, but the reports raised questions about the reporting of those crimes.
The first case involved a woman’s boyfriend reportedly touching her son inappropriately in the genital area. Normally, that would count as a child molestation, not a rape.
The second case involved sex between a 14-year-old girl and a 19-year-old man in a shed. That could also count as child molestation.
The third case arose when an officer stopped a couple in a truck and found the man had a warrant
with the Gila County Sheriff’s Office for sexual misconduct with a minor. Engler said the case shouldn’t have showed up in the Payson crime statistics at all.
The fourth case involved sex between a 14-year-girl and 20-year-old man, which should also have been categorized as child molestation.
Finally, the statistics included a report that a man had touched a woman’s breast in an apartment complex. This too is not rape, but a sexual assault.
So of the five “rapes” logged in the system, none were actually rapes.
Engler said the department has had problems with the logging software for some time. Officers may also log some data incorrectly.
When the department generates the annual report, the software searches for statute numbers associated with a particular crime — rape, for example — and generates a number.
In the past, Engler has noticed irregularities. Accident statistics looked off one year and when staff checked the numbers found the system was off.
Still, Engler could not account for the incorrect rape reports. He said the department does not have the resources to cross check every report and make sure it shows up in the system correctly.
The number of violent crimes reported can affect grant funding. Payson currently does not have enough crimes to qualify for many grants. The department once received a grant for new investigative equipment, but lost that three years ago due to low numbers.
Among other statistics in last year’s annual report, robberies decreased from seven to three, aggravated assaults went up from 42 to 52 and assaults decreased from 134 in 2012 to 113 in 2013.
Burglaries dropped 27 percent from 154 to 113. The busiest month for burglaries was May with 18. In 2012, the busiest break-in month was October (23) followed closely by January (22) and August (21).
Thefts were the driving force behind the increase in the index crime rate, Engler said. Fortunately, officers solved most of those cases by year’s end.
Last year the department’s workforce surged after Payson hired five new officers. The impact of those extra officers is evident in the number of DUI arrests. They went from 83 in 2012 to 174 in 2013.
That increase is also attributable to Payson’s new traffic enforcement officer position, which Matt Zimmerman filled. The department received a grant from the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety to purchase a fully equipped vehicle whose sole use is for traffic enforcement and accident investigations.
Zimmerman took on his new role in December, making 142 traffic stops and writing 37 citations, three of which were DUI.
One area where officers saw a marked decrease is the number of domestic violence calls, which dropped by 22 percent to 225. Arrests declined 19 percent.
Engler said it is good to see these numbers finally dropping. Engler gave credit to community groups for their work in breaking the cycle of violence. “I think this is a community success,” he said.