Blaine County joined three other counties in south-central Idaho in experiencing reduced crime rates in 2009.
The information is contained in the annual "Crime in Idaho" report released July 1 by the Idaho State Police Uniform Crime Reporting Program in Meridian. ISP compiles the data based on reports filed by police agencies throughout the state.
According to the report, Blaine County's crime rate dropped 23.8 percent in 2009. Other counties in ISP Region 4 showing crime rate reductions were Camas County at 45.3 percent, Gooding County at 33.8 percent and Twin Falls County at 4.4 percent.
The report states that the crime rate in Jerome County showed no change in 2009 compared to 2008. Crime rate increases were experienced in Cassia, Lincoln and Minidoka counties.
Statewide, the crime rate dropped 2 percent in 2009.
ISP bases the crime rate on "Type A" crimes that were reported to police agencies, whether or not the agency ultimately determines that a crime was actually committed. Type A crimes are defined as crimes against persons, society or property, and include offenses ranging from vandalism to murder.
All five police agencies in Blaine County reported reduced crime in 2009. The largest decrease was reported by the Hailey Police Department at 30.8 percent. The Ketchum Police Department reported a crime decrease of 24.2 percent, the Sun Valley Police Department 21.3 percent, the Blaine County Sheriff's Office 19.5 percent and the Bellevue Marshal's Office 11.9 percent.
"We're happy with the crime rate—I'm glad it's down," said Blaine County Sheriff Walt Femling.
The sheriff gave three reasons why he thinks crime is down in Blaine County. One, there were fewer people in the Wood River Valley in 2009; two, use of methamphetamine has decreased in the valley; and three, consolidated agencies have made it easier for police to have a visible presence.
Femling was referring to contracts his office has with the cities of Ketchum and Bellevue to provide police services. He said the consolidation improves cooperation and makes it easier to channel police resources where needed.
The sheriff said that in 2009 there were about 200 fewer construction projects in the valley, which translates to fewer workers coming into the area from outside.
"We have less people that are workers, we have less people in the bars, meaning fewer assaults and DUIs," Femling said.
The sheriff said methamphetamine use is down because of fewer workers coming into the area, increased school drug education and because the drug's price has gone up.
"Methamphetamine has a direct effect on the crime increase nationwide," Femling said. "Crime rates are skyrocketing in areas where they can't control meth. We're not running into it as frequently as we did five years ago."
Gooding County Sheriff Shawn Gough said he's uncertain why crime is down in his area, but noted that the population has actually increased and echoed Femling's statements regarding declining methamphetamine distribution.
"We've had a hard time even buying any meth," said Gough, referring to narcotics investigations. "We're buying mostly marijuana.
"You've got no meth, you've got a bad economy—maybe they just can't afford it anymore. Everybody thinks the bad economy makes crime go up, but it's gone down."
Authorities in counties in Region 4 with higher crime rates in 2009 seemed reticent to discuss the issue.
Albert Barrus, prosecuting attorney in Cassia County, where the ISP report shows an unusually high increase of 138 percent, said he thinks the reported increase is attributable to reporting errors in the previous year.
"Something's not right, because it certainly didn't double," said Barrus, who referred the Idaho Mountain Express to the Cassia County Sheriff's Office for more information.
A call there was not returned by press deadline Tuesday.
Neither was a call returned by the Lincoln County Sheriff's Office. According to the report, Lincoln County experienced a crime rate increase in 2009 of 55.9 percent.
Terry Smith: email@example.com