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Roller-coaster effect

Traffic offenses and crime in city court rise and fall since 2009

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Traffic tickets handled by Colorado Springs Municipal Court rose by 18 percent from 2009 to 2011, then took a 43 percent dive in the next two years before rising by a third, to 32,606 last year.

Meanwhile, criminal complaints (for misdemeanor crimes only) declined steadily from 6,285 in 2009 to 4,302 in 2013 — then bounced back up to 5,322 in 2014.

That volatility will be reflected in the court's annual report, due out soon, but it probably doesn't demonstrate that residents are erratic in their behavior. Rather, says Police Chief Pete Carey, a combination of enforcement strategy, extraordinary events and record-keeping adjustments are among the reasons for the drastic changes.

First, the bump in traffic tickets from 2010 to 2011 might stem from use of red-light cameras, which were installed in October 2010 and discontinued a year later, he says. Carey says a sharp drop in tickets the next two years — in 2012 and 2013 — likely reflect demands placed on cops for evacuation and security duty amid and after two devastating wildland fires that struck the city and El Paso County.

"We didn't do any of that [traffic enforcement] during the weeks we were dealing with the Waldo Canyon Fire and the Black Forest Fire," Carey says, referring to the 2012 blaze that claimed 347 homes in the city and the 2013 fire that destroyed 488 homes to the north. "And," he adds, "we had a load of flooding issues in 2013," in the aftermath of the fires.

The drop also could stem from a record-keeping change in 2012, he says. Before then, if a driver was stopped for speeding and also was ticketed for not wearing a seat belt and having an expired tag, those counted as three offenses, Carey says. The new system aggregates those into one ticket. "It changed the way we brought those numbers into statistics into our system," he says.

As for why traffic summonses showed a 31 percent rise in 2014, Carey points out that patrol officers in the second half of 2014 started using hand-held devices to issue tickets, like the department's motorcycle cops did in 2013. "Our officers are spending less time standing by the side of the car," Carey says, which frees them to make more stops.

Also, the 2014 rise in both traffic citations and criminal complaints could be attributed, in part, to the addition of officers last year.

"We brought 26 officers on board," Carey says, "and also changed our staffing times. We got leaner and meaner and tighter and more efficient, and that allowed more officers to have officer-initiated time." In common parlance, seeking out law-breakers.

Analysis of crime patterns and backed-up calls prompted Carey to change start times for the five shifts last year. For example, the shift that used to begin at 5 p.m. was pushed back to 6 p.m. This meant when cops came on duty, they had fewer calls waiting in the queue, allowing them to jump into action looking for bad guys rather than working through a list of calls awaiting attention.

The Police Department runs overlapping 10-hour shifts, he says, beginning at 6 a.m., 9 a.m., 2 p.m., 6 p.m. and 10 p.m.

Another factor perhaps behind last year's increases is a new data-driven approach to crime and traffic safety. By overlaying crime patterns with traffic crashes, police target specific areas in the city for higher levels of police deployment, Carey says, which results in solving crimes and increasing traffic safety in those areas.

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