Growing Crime Alert Issued During Town Hall Meetings

Top Law Officer Urges Citizens to Join Fight Against Unfriendly State Laws

Trevor Phipps

During a series of town hall meetings, sponsored by Teller Rifles and several area nonprofits, Sheriff Jason Mikesell hit the alarm bell and listed a slew of issues currently facing his agency and the entire county.

The conversations were loosely focused on topics such as crime, homelessness and illegal immigration. These issues have gained more attention locally and throughout the Pikes Peak region.

At the final forum, held at the sheriff department headquarters in Divide on March 8 before a packed, standing-room-only crowd, Mikesell updated the public on alarming statistics surrounding crimes and dangerous incidents his department battles on a daily basis. The sheriff also went into detail about a number of proposed legislative bills that are hitting the state legislative debate floor, some of which the sheriff and the county commissioners have testified against.

The sheriff also answered a number of questions from concerned residents. The questions covered a wide range of topics, and even focused on the growing presence of homeless camps and concerns about ATV riders driving illegally on county roads.

The bottom line is the sheriff needs help from the community. Mikesell stressed the importance of calling the sheriff’s office when residents witness crimes such as unruly ATV and motorcycle riders. He also urged residents to write their state representatives and show up at the state capitol in Denver to join the county officials’ fights against legislation that could prove damaging for Colorado’s rural populations.

According to the sheriff, their department fielded nearly 39,000 calls for service in 2023. He said that the department is currently experiencing unprecedented growth that has led to more calls for emergency service and more crime across the board.

According to the most recent census taken in 2020, Teller County had just over 25,000 residents but that number has since grown in the last four years. Mikesell also said that he didn’t trust the last census numbers since they were taken in the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and the numbers seemed to be off.

Huge Crime Explosion

The sheriff said that he can tell by his department statistics that the area has seen exponential growth that hasn’t been accounted for. He told the crowd that the sheriff’s office has experienced a significant rise in the number of crimes including both major and minor offenses.

“Our major calls for service like homicide, attempted homicide, assault and sexual assault those types of crimes have seen about a 33 percent increase last year from the previous year for all major crimes,” Mikesell explained. “For less than major crimes for what we are calling medium priority calls we had a 38 percent increase. Our low priority calls like VIN inspections or low-level harassment calls those are up about 36 percent.”

The sheriff said that the increase in crime has depleted the department’s resources and made it difficult for the agency to do things like regularly patrol subdivisions in the county for traffic violations. However, he did say that even though his force of 24 patrol officers is quite lean, his deputies still made approximately 3,000 traffic stops on county roads in Teller County last year.

He said that the sheriff’s department hasn’t seen an increase in the number of patrol officers allowed since 2014. Therefore, the 24 officers left patrolling seven days a weeks and 24 hours a day are limited with what they are able to do.

“The same deputy force of 24 that I had in 2014 that was only dealing with about 14,000 calls for service is now dealing with over 38,000 calls for service,” Mikesell said. “It’s coming to the point where it is a breaking point. I am breaking people and I don’t want to do that anymore. So, we are working through those things with the commissioners.”

More People Visiting and Recreating in Teller County

The increase of call for service not only has to do with the growth the county has seen but it also has been affected by the number of people coming to the area. According to the sheriff, the troll attraction in Victor has generated  more than 11,000 visitors a year; while Mueller State Park gets 400,000 people on an annual basis and the national forest now is frequented by 20,000 to 60,000 people per day.

But the sheriff did say that the department was recently able to take steps towards being able to better attract and retain employees at the sheriff’s office. “This year we worked out a way to pay the deputies what market rate is,” Mikesell said. “This is the first time in Teller County history that I know of that we have ever paid deputies market rate. Prior to this year, we were actually 40 to 60 percent below market rate for deputies.”

He also stated that the deputies are now all equipped with Angel Armor bullet-proof vests that can withstand rifle bullets. The county commissioners also agreed to offer the deputies an 8 percent match on retirement funds so deputies can now retire after 20 years.

The county also improved its health care benefits for deputies which has helped the department attract new employees. Currently, the sheriff’s office is fully staffed in all departments for the first time in recent years.

The sheriff then spent some time talking about an increase in recidivism statewide. He said that the department is seeing more repeat offenders because the parole and probation departments in the state have been releasing people from jail, when many of these offenders should still be locked up.

He also encouraged residents to watch the Teller County Sheriff’s Office Facebook Page to find out which proposed bills the sheriff supports and which legislation they have spoken out against.