Two years ago, the Weld County Sheriff’s Office was dealing with a surge in thefts. Homes were being stripped of copper pipes and wires, expensive equipment was disappearing from farms, and tools were being stolen from construction sites.
Eventually, the sheriff’s office began to think outside of the box to combat the spree. A special strike team was formed and given one simple instruction.
“We just tell them to go wherever the crime leads them,” said Steve Reams, sheriff’s office bureau chief. “The idea was let’s take three or four people and dedicate them solely to trying to eliminate that type of crime in the county. Within just a couple of weeks, we realized how successful that was and we started arresting people hand over fist for those types of crimes.”
Reams said the team’s success is reflected in the county’s crime statistics for 2013.
Overall, crime out in the county held steady this past year, declining about 1 percent. But hidden in those numbers, Reams said, is that more serious crimes dropped a bit more sharply.
Reported Part I crimes — what the sheriff’s office classifies as more violent crimes like homicide, forcible rape and aggravated assault — dropped 8 percent, to 1,077 cases in 2013 from 1,169 cases in 2012. Even then, the numbers are a little inflated because of a change in the way rape is reported.
“Any decrease is still a positive in our eyes,” Reams said. “Obviously, we’d like to grow that, but when you’re looking at our total numbers here, we’re dealing with some pretty small numbers. Seeing an overall decrease is obviously what we continue to strive for.”
Because of the success the sheriff’s office has seen with the strike team, Reams said they’ve begun to rotate deputies in and out of the team, spreading the knowledge and fresh perspective among as many deputies as possible.
“It’s a good way for them to get some experiences that they wouldn’t normally get from just a patrol function,” he said. “By using that methodology and freeing them up from handling other types of calls, they’ve managed to arrest a whole lot of people and definitely reduce our crime numbers related to those kind of thefts.”
Freeing up deputies to handle the more pressing calls has also spread to other areas in the sheriff’s office, Reams said.
“It definitely has helped us with the number of cases going into our investigations unit,” he said. “Our detectives are now freed up to work more of the persons crimes that we would like to see them dedicated to instead of working property crimes, because we’re eliminating a lot of those issues.”
The county didn’t have a single reported homicide in 2013 — down from six in 2012 — but Reams said those tend to be luck of the draw.
“With homicides, it’s kind of a tough deal. It really depends on the crime trends that you’re seeing throughout the county,” he said. “For instance, if you have a heavy gang activity or a lot of drug activity, obviously your homicide rate is likely to go up.”
But Reams also said homicide statistics depend on where a body is found, because the agency that discovers a body typically takes up the investigation into the death. Sometimes, like in 2012, bodies aren’t found in the same place the person was killed.
Homicides occasionally are committed in the Denver area or in neighboring counties, but the bodies are dumped in Weld County.
Nevertheless, Reams said the sheriff’s office is limited in what it can do to prevent crimes against people, like assaults, and occasionally those crimes spin out of control.
“When you’re talking about assaults, that’s more of an educational effort. It’s not necessarily a policing effort,” he said. “The big question is how do you stop a domestic (fight) from occurring between a husband and wife unless you can educate them about the effects of financial stress, alcohol, all those things? That’s really a hard role for law enforcement to play.”
By utilizing the strike team, the sheriff’s office is able to free up deputies to help take preventative measures to limit assaults — especially domestic assaults — to just a single occurrence.
And because the sheriff’s office has seen success in that effort, Reams said they’re looking at applying the strike team concept to other areas of enforcement such as traffic.
“The strike team approach really gives you kind of a focus on utilizing strength in numbers,” he said. “With that strike team concept applied to the traffic unit, we think we can have a bigger bang for the buck so to speak and, hopefully, get to some of these areas like County Road 49, where we’re getting complaints for high levels of traffic.”
Reams said the recent population growth in Weld that’s accompanied a boom in the oil and gas industry has led to a surge in traffic that was difficult for the sheriff’s office to anticipate. Because of that, the sheriff’s office plans to move about half of its current traffic enforcement to a strike team.
“For our agency, it’s always been about reducing accidents or reducing motor vehicle problems,” Reams said. “We just need a more focused approach.”