Each spring, the Grand Junction Police Department releases a statistical analysis of crime in our city. This is valuable information for our citizens, and is critical for our agency in making resource deployment decisions.
Total reported crime in 2016 showed a 9% increase over 2015. Of particular concern is a 39% increase in the category of Violent Crime, which confirms what we already knew…it was a very busy year, and a particularly dangerous year for police officers. That said, there were some statistical anomalies that bear further explanation, and which may have artificially inflated the overall increase.
Most notably, in the area of Aggravated Assault, recent legislation has reclassified most strangulation cases from a misdemeanor to a felony. Assault by strangulation accounted for 44 of the 140 aggravated assaults reported to our agency in 2016. Without that reclassification, our overall violent crime increase would have been about 17% rather than 39%.
The annual Grand Junction Police Department Crime & Traffic report not only includes crime reported to the police by the public, but also includes proactive work by officers that results in additional reports of crime. Examples of that kind of proactive work include DUI arrests, liquor enforcement, and many of the drug related offenses.
It is important to note that the GJPD gathers crime statistics in an Incident Based Reporting (IBR) format which includes every offense in every criminal incident, instead of just the most serious offense. For example, if a suspect breaks into a home, causes damage inside, and then steals a car from the garage, we record it as a Burglary, a Criminal Mischief, and an Auto Theft, even though it arises out of only one incident.
It’s also important to note that the numbers in our annual report reflect reported crime numbers, not actual crimes that have occurred. In 2016, about 3% (or roughly 350) of our criminal reports were ultimately determined to be unfounded, meaning that after an investigation by the officer or detective, it was determined that a crime did not in fact occur. Those cases are still reflected in our crime statistics as reported crime however. On the other hand, 55% of reported crimes resulted in the arrest of a suspect(s).
Sometimes in crime categories where the actual number of reported incidents is quite low, even a small increase or decrease can result in a somewhat misleading change in percentage. The crime of Prostitution is a good example of this. In 2015, there were four reports of prostitution in our jurisdiction. In 2016, that number increased to 7, resulting in a 75% increase in that crime category. Because the sample size is so small however, the increase does not necessarily indicate a concerning trend, and in fact the 7 reported incidents in 2016 is about equal to the four year average of prostitution reports handled by our agency.
Occasionally, certain crime titles generate preconceived perceptions that aren’t necessarily an accurate depiction of the problem. For many of us, the word kidnapping brings up terrifying images of school children being abducted by strangers. In fact, the majority of our kidnapping investigations, which were up 67% in 2016, occur when an adult victim is physically prevented from leaving a room or using a phone, usually arising out of a domestic violence incident. We only had one kidnapping in 2016 in which the suspect was not known to the adult victim.
Usually, we think of decreases in reported crime as a positive thing, however that may not always be the case. Because some crime reports are primarily initiated through proactive enforcement by officers, such as traffic offenses and DUIs, increases in those categories can be a good thing. Conversely, decreases in those categories may indicate that patrol officers have insufficient time to proactively look for those types of violations. For example, our 30% increase in dispatched calls over the last five years has negatively impacted what we call “uncommitted time” (time in which they aren’t handling calls for service) for our officers, during which most proactive activity takes place.
Another example of crime statistics that may on the surface seem positive, but don’t capture the entire picture, is crimes against children. Although we only saw a 1% increase in reported child abuse in 2016, and a 6% decrease in reported sexual assaults on children, reports of crimes against children in 2015 had increased almost 40%. So while we saw less of an increase in 2016, crimes against children are still up almost 25% over the five year average in that critical category.
Analysis of annual crimes statistics are one tool we use to gauge policing efforts in our community. However, without thorough evaluation and understanding of the numbers, they are only that…numbers. We encourage Grand Junction residents to take a look at the 2016 Reported Crime and Traffic report that can be found here, and we welcome your questions and comments.