Crime on the decline in Weld County

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By Jeremy Johnson

WELD COUNTY — Weld County continued to buck statewide trends as it posted its second straight year of declining crime statistics, while the state as a whole moved ever-so-slightly in the opposite direction.

Places such as Fort Lupton and the Tri-Towns continued to show a decline for the second straight year in regard to the most common crimes, like assault, robbery, burglary, larceny and motor vehicle theft, according to statistics released last month by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. 

In fact, the number of total offenses reported were at a five-year low in three of four southern Weld County communities — Frederick’s 107 total offenses in 2013 were 14 more than in 2011, but 43 fewer than last year — and all four municipalities had the lowest total arrests since 2009, or even earlier.

Though the overall drop in reported crimes in Weld County in 2013 worked out to be only about a 1 percent decrease from 2012, serious crimes like assault and homicide were down across the board in southern Weld County and beyond — in fact, not a single homicide was reported in Weld County in 2013. 

And while the number of rape reports were up slightly in 2013 for many communities, the CBI said those figures reflect a 2013 change in how rape data is recorded.

“Beginning in 2013, the conversion of rape data includes two additional offenses,” according to the July 1 press release announcing 2013 data. “The increase in the number of rapes does not represent a crime trend increase; it is merely an extension of rape data collection.”

Overall, the CBI said there was a 1.8-percent increase in Colorado’s reported crime in 2013, with homicide up 7.5 percent and slight increases also shown in larceny (2.3 percent) and motor vehicle theft (3.8 percent). Numbers for reported robbery, aggravated assault and burglary all declined statewide by 3 to 6 percent in 2013.

The CBI report includes statewide crime statistics reported by 249 law enforcement agencies across Colorado. The CBI urged caution in evaluating crime statistics, pointing out that the number of criminal offenses reported and the number of arrests do not correlate.

Furthermore, accurately crunching crime numbers can be difficult since factors like demographics and socioeconomics can create dramatic divide. For instance, Glendale, just southeast of metro Denver, is close in population to Dacono, but the former had 552 more total offenses than the latter (23 total in 2013) — not to mention a variable of 120 burglaries over three years in Glendale compared to just five over that same three-year span in Dacono. 

And while Lone Tree and Firestone might match up on the census side of things, the former has burglary figures five times higher than the latter (just six in 2013).

Demographics and socioeconomic factors aside, southern Weld County continues to retain its small-town feel, and that, said Fort Lupton police chief Ken Poncelow and others, is the key to low crime statistics.


Keeping the community connected

“(In my opinion), we may attribute (the lower crime figures) to our community-based programs, such as the Neighborhood Watch program,” said Firestone Police Chief David Montgomery, whose stomping grounds for the past 15 years was earlier this year named the second safest community in Colorado by real estate website Motovo. Other northern Colorado communities including Erie (first), Windsor (third), Lafayette (seventh) and Longmont and Fort Morgan (tied for 10th) also rounded out the list.

“The department takes a proactive approach by involving our citizens in community-based programs,” Montgomery added. 

Poncelow, who came on as chief in Fort Lupton in 2010, echoed Montgomery’s call for a more proactive, community driven approach.

“We believe, when it comes to crime in the community, that when a community is cohesive and gets along, that’s going to help reduce crime,” said Poncelow, whose own stat breakdown shows Dacono, Fort Lupton and Firestone ranked just behind Eaton and Ault at third, fourth and fifth in the county in terms of tracked crime per 1,000 residents. “I believe the more community members know one another and work and play together, the less crime will happen.”

Part of the “proactive” community approach, Poncelow added, includes being part of public events — both himself and his officers. 

“Since I started with the City of Fort Lupton … I have had several people ask me why the police department is involved in so many functions that are not law enforcement related,” he said, adding that Fort Lupton police are involved in each and every city function, and often in a role that is beyond providing security.

Poncelow, like Dacono Police Chief Gary Barbour down the road, believes another key to a safe community is keeping the “blue and red lights flashing.”

In fact, that approach is why there’s one criminal stat that is up in two of the four southern Weld County communities, and level in the other two: driving under the influence. In Frederick and Dacono, DUI arrest figures nearly doubled from 2012 to 2013, from 28 to 49 and 21 to 38, respectively.

Barbour said his department receives grants from the Colorado Department of Transportation that keeps more law enforcement officers on the lookout for drunk and impaired drivers in Dacono.

“We participate in CDOT DUI efforts, adding officers to the work schedule who are paid by grants from CDOT,” Barbour said. “We have made an effort as a department to find and arrest DUI drivers.”

“What we can do is keep the red and blue lights turning — a lot,” he said. “We make a lot of traffic stops. We don’t give out a lot of tickets, but we make a lot of stops, because just about every crime is committed by somebody with a car.”

But before making stops or even arrests, Poncelow again emphasized a proactive approach: He believes an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. 

“I would rather have officers preventing crime rather than investigating it,” he said. “Preventing criminal activity is just as important as teaching folks who not to be a victim. And it’s less expensive than building bigger fences, installing stronger locks or cleaning up after the carnage of a crime.

“We just want to make sure people know we’re out there watching,” he added. “We have to be involved because that’s the key to crime prevention. If all we’re doing is investigating crime, we’re not doing enough.”


By the numbers

Notable southern Weld County crime statistics:

• Fort Lupton and the Tri-Towns reported a total of 18 burglaries in 2013, compared to 37 in 2012 and a whopping 125 five years ago, in 2009.

• Similarly, larceny and theft charges are down: Dacono has reported just five such incidents in the past three years, and Firestone has seen figures for those crimes drop from 167 in 2010 to an average of 74 a year over the past three years. Fort Lupton reported the second fewest larceny and theft charges in the county in 2013 with just 15.

• Fort Lupton and the Tri-Towns averaged about 115 total arrests (both adult and juvenile) in 2013, compared to an average of 338 arrests in 2009. Fort Lupton arrested only five juveniles in 2013.

• Assaults figures for Fort Lupton and Frederick in 2013 — 26 and 17 respectively — were less than half the assaults reported in those communities in 2009 (76 and 36, respectively). In Dacono and Firestone, where the five-year average for assaults in both communities is around 36 per year, posted half those numbers in 2013: Dacono, 22, Firestone, 17.

• Only 11 automobile motor vehicle thefts were reported in 2013 in Fort Lupton and the Tri-Towns — less than half the number of vehicle thefts reported in 2013 in Evans (24). Only two vehicle thefts were reported in 2013 in Firestone, where 44 total vehicle theft reports were filed in 2009, 2010 and 2012 combined.

• The number of DUI arrests in Frederick in 2013 (49) was nearly twice as many as the previous four-year average of 25. In Dacono, the 2013 DUI figures (38) were well over twice as much as the previous four-year average of 14.