An uptick in serious crimes this summer may be a product of short staffing at the Durango Police Department, Chief Bob Brammer said.
The number of “serious crimes” as defined by the FBI, increased by almost 20% from July 2018 to July 2019 in Durango, according to statistics kept by the DPD.
July 2019 is the first time in the past five years the number of serious crimes reported was higher than the previous year.
The Durango Police Department is hurting for employees, Brammer said. With fewer patrol officers than the department needs, the chief said local law enforcement has become more reactive than proactive.
Deputy Police Chief Brice Current said when officers spend more time responding to calls rather than walking the street or talking with residents, they don’t have the opportunity to get “plugged in with the community.”
“It puts us in a position of mopping and not turning off the faucet,” Current said.
DPD, for the past year, has used data to make staffing decisions, including where and when to have officers patrolling the streets, Brammer said.
The chief recognizes the threat of “paralysis by analysis” – and, thanks to Tessa Reinhart, DPD crime analyst, he said he has the information he needs each week to decide how best to prevent crime and keep the community safe.
Reinhart said she reads as many police reports as she can each day in search of patterns – repeating criminal activity committed around a certain time of day in specific geographic locations. Police scanner traffic keeps her small, windowless office from becoming too quiet.
“Bicycle thefts are a huge issue for us,” Reinhart said. “We don’t have a lot of personal crime – it’s a lot more property crime; like thefts from cars.”
What the FBI considers “Part 1 crimes” – serious offenses – rose from 75 offenses in 2018 to 93 in 2019 in Durango, according to Reinhart’s analysis. Those crimes include homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft and arson, according to the FBI.
While crimes in specific locations are nearly impossible to predict, DPD has, over time, identified daily, weekly and monthly crime trends in the city that Chief Brammer said he’s using to allocate his limited patrol resources.
Law enforcement use the information garnered to “do some predictive policing” – that is, putting officers in locations around the city at times when criminal activity or traffic crashes are highest. For example, there’s an overlap in shifts on weekends around 2 a.m., when the bars are closing, offering increased patrols.
Then, still using statistics, the department can measure its effectiveness.
“If tickets and the number of crashes is down, then we’re doing something right,” Brammer said. “But if tickets are up and crashes are up, then we’re doing something wrong.”
Reinhart said she believes data-informed policing is having an impact. The number of traffic tickets fell about 40% from July 2015 to July 2019, and the number of crashes reduced by a similar margin, Brammer said. Reinhart sends weekly reports to department staff, highlighting streets or neighborhoods that have high crime or high crash rates.
“I think just their presence is keeping criminals out,” Reinhart said of patrol officers. “But sometimes it just moves to a new area.”
She shares information with the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office and, when officers make a big arrest, they can use the information Reinhart gathers from reports to find crime trends and link suspects with unsolved cases.
“I give direction,” she said. “I’ll say, ‘This is looking good (a hot spot for crime), you might want to check this out.’”
When Reinhart has downtime, she’ll read police reports in more detail or look through databases to link criminal activity in Durango to other parts of the country. She reads a lot of gruesome stuff, but she’s able to leave it in the office, Reinhart said.
“It’s not a pleasant experience, you definitely run across people you know,” said Reinhart, who is a native of La Plata County. “It’s not for everyone.”