Most Grand County court-related caseloads shrink in recent years | SkyHiNews.com

Most Grand County court-related caseloads shrink in recent years

Reid Armstrong
Sky-Hi News
Grand County, CO Colorado

The Grand County criminal justice system is feeling the effects of the recession … in some unexpected ways.

Case filings, jail bookings and 911 calls have been on the decline since 2007 in Grand County, a sign – perhaps – that people have left the area.

“We don’t think we have less crime or less happening,” said Grand County Sheriff Rod Johnson. “We think it’s less people.”

The hardest hit sector of the local economy has been, far and away, the construction labor industry.

“Most of those laborers are in that age bracket, 18-35, that are probably the most active for law enforcement,” Johnson said. “When the building industry was hit, they were the first to leave.”

As a result, Grand County Court, which deals with DUIs, minor traffic offenses, misdemeanors and petty offenses, saw a 13 percent decline in just one year from 2009 to 2010, some 300 fewer cases.

Jail bookings have fallen off 28 percent since 2007 when 1,173 people were entered into the system. Last year that number fell to 844.

Even the dispatch center is handling fewer calls, 2,078 less in 2010 than 2008, a drop of about 16 percent in two years.

Felony cases at the District Court level also have fallen off. The court had 50 fewer felony cases filed in 2010 than in 2008, a decrease of about 30 percent.

Civil litigation

On the other hand, civil cases in District Court have been on the rise over the same time period, another sign of the ailing economy.

The single largest area of increase in District Court was in foreclosure filings, which have shot up 58 percent since 2008. Total case filings in District Court increased 18 percent during the same period.

Civil cases, including bankruptcy and business disputes, have increased 56 percent (including the foreclosures).

Divorce and domestic cases seem to be decreasing in recent years, although those who work in the criminal justice system aren’t quite sure why. Family cases (including divorce and custody cases) have fallen by 18 percent during the last two years.

Sherri Ferree, who works in the Hayden office of Northwest Colorado Legal Services Project offering free legal aid for civil cases to qualifying individuals, said her group has been seeing fewer domestic violence cases in recent years.

“We’ve been trying to figure out why,” she said. “It seems like in a bad economy we would see more.”

Ferree’s theory is that “people are more likely to stay in a bad situation when there’s less of a chance of making it on their own.”

Disconnected telephones

Another sign that people are leaving the county, Johnson said, is a large decrease in the county’s revenue from 911 surcharges. The 911 Authority collects $1.50 per phone number (land lines and cell phones) and remits it to the local sheriff’s office based on billing addresses.

When a land line is turned off or the billing address for a cell phone moves out of the county, those surcharges are no longer collected for Grand County.

At the peak in November 2008, the county received some $34,600 in surcharge revenue. In November 2010, the revenue collected fell to $30,000, indicating that more than 3,000 phone numbers were either disconnected or left the county over that two-year period.

While there has been a trend to disconnect land lines or reduce the number of cell phones in a household to save money in tight times, this drop seems to follow an emerging pattern, visible from falling school enrollment to post office box vacancies, indicating that some 15 to 20 percent of the county’s population may have left the area since the 2008 peak in the local construction and real estate industries.

Local census numbers aren’t due to be released until April.

– Reid Armstrong can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19610 or rarmstrong@skyhidailynews.com.


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