Rate increases much faster than rest of U.S.
Crime rates dropped or remained static in many of the nation’s 30 largest cities last year, but in Colorado the crime rate per 100,000 people spiked by 3.4 percent, fueled by a rise in auto thefts, rape, murder and robbery.
Colorado’s crime-rate increase in 2016 was more than 11 times the 0.3 percent average increase reported in the 30 largest cities in the nation, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.
Last year’s number of homicides — 189 — marked a 9.9 percent increase over the 172 in 2015, according to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation report “2016 Crime in Colorado.” Nearly one in three homicides
were committed in Denver.
Factoring in the state’s population grown, the homicide rate increased 6.3 percent per 100,000 residents, the CBI reported.
Some Colorado lawmakers, police and legal experts partly blame the marijuana industry, claiming that it has lured transients and criminals to the state. Others point to a dramatic increase in the number of cars stolen to commit other crimes or to ship to Mexico. Increases in crime are often a reflection of economic conditions, said Steve Davis, spokesman for the Lakewood Police Department.
“I think it would be naive not to believe the increase in drug use is not having an impact on the crime rate,” said Rep. Cole Wist, R-Centennial, who serves on the House Judiciary Committee. But Cole added that it’s not just marijuana that is having an impact on crime, but also an increase in the use of heroin and illegal prescription drugs.
Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett said the passage of the felony drunken driving law by Gov. John Hickenlooper in 2015 also triggered an increase in felony crimes that are counted in the annual summary of crime statistics. Boulder County alone has had between 60 and 100 felony drunken driving cases since the law’s passage, Garnett said.
One of the elements of the state report that was especially troubling to legal authorities was the rise in the number of violent crimes.
The number of rapes increased 7.2 percent — from 3,275 in 2015 to 3,512 in 2016 — the CBI report says. The increase of rapes per 100,000 residents was 5 percent.
Robberies in Colorado increased 5.9 percent to 3,518, and the number of aggravated assaults jumped 8.3 percent to 10,682, according to the CBI report.
The number of homicides across the state was the highest since 2004, according to records. It also represents a 47 percent increase over the 129 homicides in 2010.
There were 57 murders in Denver in 2016, according to the report. That represented 30 percent of all murders in Colorado.
CBI officials indicated they can’t offer an analysis about why crime increased in the state. Denver police did not return a phone message. But state lawmakers, county prosecutors and police chiefs offered a lot of perspective.
Greeley Police Chief Jerry Garner said he and many other police chiefs across Colorado have noticed a big increase in the number of transients moving to the state and contributing to a surge in burglaries.
“They were breaking into homes to burglarize them, breaking into cars and breaking into homes to stay warm in the winter,” said Garner, who added that Greeley had a 20 percent increase in major crimes.
The most dramatic increase in crime categories in Colorado, the report says, was in the number of motor vehicle thefts — up 22 percent to 19,430 in 2016 from 15,932 in 2015.
“I think we are seeing more and more cars stolen to commit other crimes,” said Davis, the Lakewood police spokesman. “There are more and more crimes committed to support drug habits.”
Lakewood, like other Denver metro cities, is in the midst of a rash of “smash and grab” burglaries of gun shops and convenience stores, Davis said. Thieves steal unoccupied cars warming up in driveways and use them to ram entrances to stores. Then they abandon the cars.
In the past, thieves would steal a car for their own use or to sell on the black market, Davis said.
Garnett said there has been an increase in the number of felony domestic violence charges. Victims are not as often seeking help before the abuse escalates to more violent crime.
“We’re trying to figure out what that is tied to,” he said.
Wist said there is a dire need to improve trust between police and the community. He also sees an economic correlation to crime.
“When folks don’t have hope, they’ll turn to other alternatives,” Wist said.