Crime in Littleton: up and down

Looking at short-term versus long-term trends reveals different realities of local crime. From the Littleton Independent.

Littleton's Neighborhood Resource Manager Mark Barons shows the city map he uses to monitor crime reports to develop a better picture of where to apply resources.

Depending on how you look at the numbers — short-term or long-term — crime in Littleton is either up or down.

The Colorado Bureau of Investigation recently released its 2016 crime data, which showed some startling shifts: From 2015 to 2016, reported thefts went up almost 18 percent, reported robberies went up 20 percent and reported motor vehicle thefts went up a full third.

However, when looked at on a longer timeline, the numbers look different in perspective. If you look back over 15 years to the beginning of the 21st century, many types of crime are below their peak, which for most categories was from 2004-06.

One year — 2005 — was particularly bad, with reported burglaries, thefts and car thefts all peaking that year. Even with the jump in the 2016 numbers, when compared to that 2005 peak, reported burglaries are down 21 percent, reported thefts are down by a quarter, and even the jump in reported car thefts brings the number to less than half their highest level.

Though much local crime is ratcheted down to levels a good bit lower than 12 years ago, Littleton Police Department officials are concerned about the numbers creeping back up.

“I wish I knew what caused that fall, because I'd sure like to replicate anything we had going on,” said Littleton Police Chief Doug Stephens. “We need to keep working on this, because you see the same increasing trend across the state and nation, especially with motor vehicle theft. It's really climbed over the last couple years.”

Stephens wasn't sure how to explain the mid-2000s spike or the subsequent decline, but said socioeconomic factors often play a role.

“Maybe as the economy is improving, crime gets better,” Stephens said. “I just don't know. I wish I did.”

He said that the recent increase may be linked to the opioid addiction epidemic .

“As we see heroin and opioids increase in use, we're seeing these property crimes increase accordingly. You see a lot of crimes where items are stolen to support a drug habit.”

Police intervention isn't the only tool to battle the problem, Stephens said.

“We make arrests, and they end up in the criminal justice system, but that may not help them with their addiction,” Stephens said. “Whatever may happen to them criminally, they may still have that drug dependency. If there was a way that society in general could better effect people's dependencies through treatment or counseling or other efforts, that could have a positive effect on crime impacts.”

The most dramatic changes in Littleton's crime statistics are those around drugs: Drug-offense arrests plummeted from triple digits prior to 2013, to less than 50 every year since recreational marijuana was legalized. DUI arrests are down almost two-thirds.

Stephens said marijuana legalization was a mixed bag for law enforcement: It means officers spend less time writing citations and booking sacks of weed into evidence, but it also gives them fewer opportunities to investigate people who may be guilty of other crimes.

DUI arrests may be down in part because marijuana use may be supplanting alcohol use, Stephens said, adding that it's much harder to detect someone driving under the influence of marijuana.

“The only thing we can do is test their blood, and we need to get a warrant or probable cause to do that,” Stephens said. “I'm confident that as the science and technology grow and evolve, we'll have a better ability to identify marijuana use among drivers on the roadside. Right now we're behind the curve.”

Community outreach and interaction is key in fighting crime, Stephens said.

“Call us if you see something suspicious,” Stephens said. “People sometimes feel like what they're observing is no big deal, or that they don't want to bug us, but let us check it out. Sometimes just our presence can be enough to deter crime.”

Littleton's community engagement efforts are increasingly technology-enabled.

Police crime reports are automatically updated on a publicly accessible online crime map, which can be found by going to www.littletongov.org and typing "crime map" into the search bar, and the city monitors the Nextdoor social media site to map crime hot spots, said Littleton's Neighborhood Resource Manager Mark Barons.

“We're reaching about 29 percent of households in the city,” Barons said of Nextdoor, which he said “is like Facebook for your neighborhood.”

Barons, whose department is tasked with a variety of community outreach efforts, said he also helps administer a neighborhood mediation program that provides a non-law enforcement route to resolve neighbor disputes that helps keeps unnecessary calls out of police dispatch.

Looking back to the beginning of the 21st century for crime trends is interesting but not immediately important to police, said Danielle Trujillo, a crime analyst with Littleton Police.

“We used to look back five years, but because things have changed so much, we just look back a couple years to get a gauge of what's a reasonable range,” Trujillo said. “Our old range was much higher, and we've brought it down to a new normal.”

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