Editor’s Note: This week, we continue our series on crime/serious felony cases and an overall explosion of incidents in the Teller County High Country over the last few years due to the region’s growth; and more importantly, the impact this has on local agencies. For this issue, we examine the Woodland Park Police Department, an agency that has been the center of attention, as a result of the growth of the area and its reputation as the service hub of Teller County. Plus, more people have equated to many more calls, with limited fiscal resources to combat this challenge.
~ by Bob Volpe ~
If you have ever been the victim of a violent or property crime in Woodland Park, you may wonder if you are not alone.
Or, with all the national publicity surrounding the suspected murder of Kelsey Berreth, is the town on an upswing in serious felony and criminal activity?
Last week, TMJ News sat down with Commander Jim Halloran of the Woodland Park Police Department (WPPD) to discuss crime trends and incidents in the “City Above the Clouds.” The focus of the discussion was what direction crimes have been trending since 2015. WPPD dispatcher Jen Tobias provided a spreadsheet listing 16 areas of crimes that occur in the city. The list covered everything from traffic incidents and property crimes to violent crimes.
No big problems with property crime
Interestingly, property crimes, such as shoplifting/theft, burglary, motor vehicle theft, and robbery have remained relatively even since 2015, fluctuating up or down by 6 or fewer incidents in any given year.
But just like the scenario surrounding the alleged killing of Berreth following a national search, it is a few notable cases that have grabbed the spotlight.
The most recent high profile robbery occurred in May of 2017 when Vectra Bank was robbed, a case that ignited much angst in the community. The culprit, 37-year-old, Donte Lee, was arrested soon after the incident. Another, as yet unsolved bank robbery occurred in July of 2015 when a man walked into then Peoples Bank, in the middle of the day and demanded the teller fill his backpack with cash. That perpetrator made his escape in the fog-shrouded streets and is still at large. Some believe the suspect may have been involved in other robberies in Colorado Spring.
Luckily, there were no robberies reported in 2018.
Violent crimes have also remained relatively flat, with the exception of assault. In fact, these incidents, showing a trend towards more violent crimes, have jumped from a low of seven incidents in 2017, to 22 incidents in 2018. That statistic has raised some local concerns. Halloran did note
that from his point of view, “Crimes are becoming more violent. We have had more violent crimes in the past two years than we’ve had in the past. What I’m saying is, for instance, if we have an assault
it might be a more serious type of assault than it was three or four years ago.”
Fortunately, domestic violence, menacing, and harassment incidents are all down from previous years. That’s a more positive development, compared to other neighboring agencies.
Of course, the biggest violent crime on everyone’s mind these days is murder. The alleged murder of Kelsey Berret, by her fiance, Patrick Frazee, is the talk of the town and is in the national media headlines nearly every day. Other than this high profile case, Woodland Park hasn’t had a serious of a murder case since December of 1992, when Jacob Ind brutally murdered his parents, with the assistance of his accomplice, Gabriel Adams. Ind, who was given the chance to have a retrial last year, was recently re-sentenced to 60 years behind bars as part of a plea agreement Adams took his own life in prison about five years ago.
Traffic violations and road rage incidents explode
Not surprisingly, traffic violations fill the majority of incidents reported to police. The majority of 911 calls involve traffic incidents. In 2018, WPPD handled 3,238 911 calls, mostly involving traffic accidents, reckless driving, and road rage. These calls are up drastically since 2015 when dispatchers fielded 1,302, 911 calls.
With the recent national focus on the opioid epidemic, one would think Woodland Park would not be immune to the problem. However, statistics show since 2015, incidents of arrests for unlawful possession of a controlled substance in town only consisted of 12 incidents.
All in all, the bulk of police incidents in the city are traffic related. Driving under the influence stops, traffic accidents, road rage/reckless driving incidents and shoplifting/theft top the crime happenings in the city.
Of the traffic-related incidents, Dispatcher Tobias said, “We’ve had 460 reckless driving calls this year (2018). That’s trumped every traffic related call. Yeah, it’s definitely climbing.”
Halloran noted that there is no particular part of the city that is a “hot spot” of crime. He said, “We get more thefts at Walmart than we do at the high school, but no, there isn’t any high crime area.”
Police Staffing A Growing Problem
The city police department is staffed by 33 full-time employees. Of that lineup, there are eight dispatchers, 22 officers, two of which are victim advocates, and three who are detectives, one administrative assistant, and one K-9 unit.
Depending on peak hours, there are anywhere from a minimum of two patrol officers in the field to eight cruising the streets of the city. According to Halloran, “We have the majority of people out when (historically) we have the most calls.”
As far as dedicated resources to focus on problem issues, the WPPD has a traffic enforcement unit, a K-9 unit, and a drug recognition expert.
An interesting aspect to the traffic enforcement unit is that the patrol cars have an active license plate reader. This device constantly scans a 360-degree area for stolen vehicles, outstanding warrants, or other crimes. The K-9 unit is a drug detector dog and trained tracker. He is not trained to detect explosives, however.
The drug recognition expert is trained to recognize the difference between someone suspected of DUI and someone driving under the influence of drugs. The expert is trained to conduct a series of tests, both physical medical tests and observational tests by questioning to determine if the subject is on drugs.
City council has increased the police budget this year by $21,000.
According to Halloran, the majority of that increase will be used for training.
As far as retaining officers, Halloran said the department is, “generally good” but they do lose officers to hirer paying entities on occasion. Halloran said, “With as many people as we have, we have a turnover of a few every year.”
Dispatcher Tobias explained the average response time to calls. She said, “It does not exceed the seven minutes it takes to respond from any point in town, except in the summertime when traffic is horrible.
We’re usually under six minutes and that’s for a low priority call.”