Aspen police calls rise 10 percent in 5 years |

Aspen police calls rise 10 percent in 5 years

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

ASPEN – A look back at Aspen Police Department statistics from 2007 through 2011 reveals a few trends – including a 10 percent increase in the total number of calls and a similar rise in the number of arrests over the four-year period – but nothing especially shocking.

In some police-call categories, there were wild fluctuations from 2007, when the local and national economies were peaking, to 2009, the year economic conditions took a nosedive. Last year, a lot of the figures in those categories were closer to their 2007 levels.

For instance, the number of traffic stops by Aspen police recorded four years ago was 3,399. The figure spiked to 5,463 stops in 2009 but dropped back to 4,191 in 2011 – still a significant increase of 23 percent over the 2007 figure but nothing like the 2009 uptick.

Calls on suspicion of driving under the influence violations also rose significantly from 2007 to 2009, from 92 to 135, then fell back to 84 last year: a 9 percent decrease compared with 2007.

Oddly enough, drug violations fell from 2007 to 2009, from 61 to 39. But the figure rose to 73 in 2011, representing a 19 percent increase from four years ago.

Total arrests in 2011 numbered 446, a small slide from 2009’s figure of 464 but still 12 percent higher than 2007’s 400.

Police Chief Richard Pryor, who took over the reins of the department in December 2007 following the resignation of Chief Loren Ryerson, said any analysis of the numbers usually involves a fair degree of speculation.

The dramatic increases in certain categories from 2007 to 2009 could be related to the economic slowdown, Pryor said, but also might be explained by the fact that he had to hire several new police officers in the year or two after he took over. Toward the end of Ryerson’s six-year watch, in 2007, several police officers left the force.

Ryerson was a 23-year department veteran when he resigned in November 2007 amid allegations of sexual harassment by former employees, including one to whom he publicly apologized.

“It might be related to the transition in the department over the period from 2008 to 2010. We had a lot of turnover, and we were getting new officers in and training a lot of people, and we were sort of understaffed at times,” Pryor said. “That may have affected response a little bit.”

Pryor pointed to domestic-violence statistics as an example of how some figures might be climbing because police are more active today than in 2009. The stats show 85 calls in 2007 and then a 44 percent decrease to 48 calls in 2009, followed by a rapid rise to 92 calls in 2011.

“It could be that we’ve been doing more outreach – not just the Police Department – but the community is more aware of people going through domestic-violence situations, so maybe they’re reporting a bit more now,” he said.

Another example of how new recruits can have an effect on the statistics, Pryor said, could be the spike in DUI calls from 2007 to 2009.

“It could be an economic thing, but it also could be a new-officer thing,” he said. “One of the more straightforward tasks for a new police officer to get into is traffic stops. They are more comfortable doing that because they are going out and doing more of them. That could be why the DUI and traffic-stop numbers were so much higher in 2009.”

Basically, the numbers show that Aspen continues to be a safe community without the big-city problems of homicide, attempted murder, stabbings, armed robbery and the like.

“We’re astonishingly lucky to live where we live, and we do live in a very safe town,” Pryor said.

The stats show other categories that could be viewed in a negative light, such as restraining-order calls, which nearly tripled from 13 in 2007 to 36 in 2011. And there are some positives, such as the number of bear calls, which plummeted by nearly half over the four-year period, from 638 to 327.

“I’m not going to hold my breath over that one,” Pryor said of the bear-call figures.

The police chief, a native of Hertfordshire County, England, said he’s not completely satisfied with where the department stands today.

“I don’t know that you ever get there, really. I don’t think we have the luxury of ever resting on our laurels. We just need to provide the level of service the people in this town desire, and if we take anything for granted, I don’t think we’re doing our jobs,” Pryor said.

Though he lost a couple of positions in his department in recent years, much like other city departments did during the Great Recession, Pryor said the force is of an adequate size to do its job.

Community policing and trying to find positive solutions to situations will continue to be a focus in the coming years, he said.

“Things are cyclical in nature,” Pryor said. “We seem to go through periods of stability and periods of transition. Hopefully I can keep the periods of stability going for as long as possible here.”

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