Steamboat Springs A decrease in the number of drug-related crimes investigated by the Routt County Sheriff's Office during the past four years does not indicate a decline in drug activity. Rather, local law enforcement officials say drugs continue to be an increasing problem in the area.
According to 2001 through 2004 statistics compiled by the Routt County Sheriff's Office, the number of arrests, investigations and tickets issued for drug-related crimes has been on a remarkable decline, decreasing from 319 cases in 2001 to 204 cases in 2004. The 2004 total was more than cut in half last year, when the Sheriff's Office reported 91 drug-related arrests, investigations and citations.
For those who think the numbers indicate a decline in Routt County's drug activity, Sheriff John Warner has another message.
"Those numbers are a false positive," Warner said last week. "The decline is reflecting the fact that we aren't taking on as many cases in our office for drug arrests or offenses."
Instead, Warner said the decline largely can be attributed to the creation of a regional drug task force several years ago. Warner said many of the drug cases his office used to investigate are passed on to the Greater Routt and Moffat Narcotics Enforcement Team, or GRAMNET.
"That's why we established GRAMNET. They take the cases, which keep our officers on the roads," Warner said.
GRAMNET also has made its presence felt in Steamboat Springs, where its officers made 103 drug-related arrests last year. Seventy-two of those arrests were for methamphetamine-related crimes. GRAMNET officers made 27 methamphetamine arrests within Steamboat city limits in 2004.
But GRAMNET might not be the only reason the Sheriff's Office is handling fewer drug cases.
Warner said that, like the Steamboat Springs Police Dep--art----ment, his department has been short-staffed for about a year, which also could be affecting its ability to identify and investigate potential drug cases.
"It's frustrating for me. We've been down (on staffing) all year," he said.
Despite the short staffing, Warner said his department continues to handle the same number of calls it has in past years.
Warner said despite the statistics compiled by the Sheriff's Office, there is nothing to indicate that drug use, distribution or possession is on a decline in Routt County. If anything, the county is seeing an increase in drug-related of----fenses, including arrests.
"As the saying goes, figures lie, and liars figure. The problem with statistics is they don't show the whole picture."
Warner said Routt County Jail deputies have reported seeing more driving under the influence of drug arrests, possession arrests and distribution arrests than before.
"We're seeing more arrests countywide for narcotics than I've ever seen before. The number of (driving under the influence of drug) arrests alone are more than I've ever seen in the past," he said.
"In the 1970s and 1980s, we saw a lot of driving under the influence (of alcohol) arrests. Now, in the 1990s and 2000s, it's driving under the influence of drugs.
"There aren't one or two answers here. We are constantly looking at the way we attack the drug problem. We certainly have more education now about drugs than we have ever had before," he said.
In addition to the resources GRAMNET provides, Warner said his officers have a traveling mock methamphetamine lab that officers use during school programs and community events to warn people about the dangers of drugs, specifically methamphetamine.
Meth on the rise
GRAMNET task force Com--mander Dusty Schultz said the meth problem in Moffat and Routt counties is startling.
Also startling is the misconception among Routt County residents that the meth problem is a Craig and Moffat County issue.
"It really is naÃive to sit on the Routt County side of it and say it isn't there," Schultz said. "This problem is in both our cities. It's in both of our counties. There is no safe place from it."
He thinks one of the main reasons many residents think Moffat County is Northwest Colorado's methamphetamine mecca is because of the attention the issue has received in Craig in the past couple of years.
"I think meth awareness is heightened in Moffat County because we have better education about it (in Craig). There are citizens groups and public forums that are pushing the issue into the community. Those are the people that are forcing it into the limelight," he said.
Schultz said socio-economic class might play a small role in why there seems to be more meth in Moffat County. Most drug users in Moffat County couldn't afford to live the perceived "Steamboat lifestyle."
"Drug dealers blend in well in Steamboat. Meth users eventually become addicts. Those addicts, in turn, are stripped of everything they have. Craig is a better place for them to live. Meth addicts couldn't afford to live in Steamboat," he said.
The number of methamphetamine and methamphetamine-related arrests made by GRAMNET officers tripled from 2004 to 2005, Schultz said, and many of those arrests were made in Routt County, and, more specifically, Steamboat Springs.
"Our officers and other patrol officers are encountering (meth) daily. We are arresting people for distributing, we're citing people for possession," he said.
Like Warner, Schultz emphasized that drug-related crimes are increasing, not decreasing.
"The drug problem is not going away. Nothing could be further from the truth," he said.
Schultz and Warner agree that most of the counties' problems aren't just people using and selling drugs. It's also the so-called secondary crimes committed by drug addicts.
"It's not always just the drug problem. It's the underlying issues. It's the burglaries that are committed to obtain items that can be sold for drugs. It's the husband who's high on meth and hits his wife. If you're dealing drugs, well, how do you support yourself? You steal," Warner said.
"Nationally, about 80 percent of all crimes have a drug nexus to them -- any crime you can think of," Schultz said.
Schultz hopes to expose more community members to GRAMNET's drug awareness programs. Educating residents could help officers cut down on the number of drug crimes in the county.
"My goal is to raise the awareness and to educate the community. I want people to know how to spot a meth lab, how to see the symptoms of a meth user or addict. We offer free training to anyone who wants it," he said.
-- To reach Alexis DeLaCruz, call 871-4234 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org