Friday, July 11, 2008

Jump in valley crime demands civic and police attention

The criminal justice system can do only so much to prevent crime. However, the 27 percent spike in crime in Blaine County in 2007 should rattle the civic conscience into action to explore ways of how the community can aid law enforcement.

The county's 877 Group A crimes against persons and property is 3,993.8 per 100,000 population, twice the state rate of 1,971.9 per 100,000--and a jump from 649 in 2006.

When the volume and rate of crime dropped in 2006, valley police officials credited it with more police presence and more alert citizens who reported possible crimes and avoided their own exposure to crime.

If that is key to prevention, then area law enforcement officials should organize a new appeal to the community to deal with this surprising jump in crime.

Does law enforcement need more personnel for patrols? Does the county attorney need more prosecutors? Do courts need more staff? A new expanded county jail should soon make holding prisoners easier.

Residents are generous in supporting emergency services. The recent tax increase approved for continuing ambulance excellence is an example. And not to be forgotten, county residents have developed a special affection for firefighters as the result of the brilliant battle against the Castle Rock fire.

One area of special concern should be driving under the influence of which there were 184 cases—the most in the crime summary. A driver careening down State Highway 75 can be as deadly a weapon as a firearm. If these drivers are being served alcohol in commercial establishments beyond their limit, law enforcement should remind bar keeps of the possible implied liability if a patron causes an accident with injuries and death.

Tough sentencing to jail, rather than probation, is another tool. When word gets around that time behind bars is a certainty, and thus probable loss of a job and isolation from family, disruptive elements should be motivated to behave.

Preventing and prosecuting crime should be an urgent agenda item for the entire county. The Wood River Valley increasingly is attracting year-round visitors by the thousands to share in popular culture such as the summer symphony and performing theater, events such as Trailing of the Sheep and Wagon Days, the art galleys and the new look in downtown Ketchum.

Relatively low crime rates have been part of the valley's appeal and the basis for the valley's economic vitality. It's important to reign in crime and keep it that way.

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