On Wednesday, two deputies from the Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office held the first of three public presentations about crime trends in the region.
At the Montezuma County Combined Courts meeting room, Undersheriff Vernon Knuckles gave a presentation on what crime costs the average community, and Detective Lt. Tyson Cox presented the latest statistics on crime trends in Montezuma County over the past four years. They used the data to argue that the Sheriff’s Office needs more funding and more deputies. They plan to give two more “Crime Stats 101” presentations this month – one at the Dolores Community Center on Nov. 15, and one at the Lewis-Arriola Fire Department on Nov. 29.
Knuckles’ presentation quoted national data that showed U.S. residents pay about $150 billion annually for crime in “tangible costs,” such as property damage, medical care and victims’ services programs. The “intangible costs” of crime, like emotional trauma and reduced quality of life, are much harder to calculate in dollar amounts, he said, but they likely dwarf the tangible ones in most cases.
Data generated by the RAND Corporation, a research organization, showed that in a community with a law enforcement agency the size of the Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office, each robbery would cost residents an estimated $67,277, while a crime as serious as homicide would cost about $8.6 million.
Knuckles also cited a 2007 study from the University of Pennsylvania that showed a drastic change in crime and its costs based on the number of officers added to a department through a grant program.
“The number of police statistically and significantly affect the number of burglaries, robberies, thefts and assaults,” Knuckles said. “A 1 percent increase in police reduces property crime by 2.5 percent and violent crime by 1 percent. ... A 1 percent increase for Montezuma County is one officer.”
He said the county’s decision to remove seven positions from the sheriff’s budget in 2014 has forced the department to become a “reactive agency,” largely responding to crimes after they occur instead of actively patrolling and seeking out crime.
Data released by the Sheriff’s Office in May shows property crimes such as burglary, theft and motor vehicle theft are the most common in Montezuma County, with 313 incidents reported in 2016. The data showed a significant rise in the number of thefts reported in the county, with a 51 percent increase from 2013 to 2016. Drug felonies doubled during those four years, rising from 38 in 2013 to 76 in 2016.
“Cortez has become a hub for narcotics,” Cox said. “It is coming in here from Phoenix and Albuquerque, and then being sourced from here into other metro areas.”
He said drug crime is one of the biggest problems facing the Sheriff’s Office, which employs two drug task force officers. Felony crimes as a whole have risen 33 percent since 2013, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
Wednesday’s presentation was sparsely attended, with less than a dozen residents and employees from local health and victims’ advocacy groups. The deputies took questions about Knuckles’ research and the county’s crime trends throughout the meeting. Cox said he hoped for a bigger turnout at the Dolores session.