Eagle County criminals becoming more creative | VailDaily.com

Eagle County criminals becoming more creative

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – Drug crimes are down slightly, but the variety of drugs has increased, according to the latest crime statistics.

“Never underestimate someone with a drug addiction and a chemistry set,” said District Attorney Mark Hurlbert.

Overall, crime is down or flat through the first half of 2011, according to local law enforcement statistics.

Some of it’s enforcement, Hurlbert said, and some of it’s shrinking population.

“There are fewer cops on the streets, so we’re seeing a decline in all cases,” Hurlbert said.

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Eagle County lost thousands of jobs since the recession hit, mostly in construction, and that’s a factor, Hurlbert said.

So there are fewer of us, and it appears we’re behaving a little better.

“Certainly there are fewer people in Eagle County, and that goes along with it,” Hurlbert said.

The people who manufacture and sell narcotics are a creative lot.

“It’s something every year. It is always changing,” Hurlbert said.

We get to experience so much of this firsthand because I-70 remains one of the major drug smuggling corridors in the U.S., Hurlbert said.

Take bath salts, for example.

Bath salts are one of the latest, and it’s not what it sounds like.

It’s a central nervous system stimulant with worse hallucinogenic, psychological and psychoactive side effects than methamphetamine and cocaine, says Tamar Wilson with the Colorado District Attorneys Council.

It’s cathinone, an off-white/yellow powdery substance and people chop it up and snort it or smoke it, Hurlbert says.

You used to be able to buy it in convenience stores and head shops, where it was marketed as a novelty item called “bath salts” or plant fertilizer and plant food, and labeled that it’s not for human consumption, Wilson says.

“There is no legitimate use for bath salts,” Wilson says. “The purpose of the label advertising that they are ‘not for human consumption’ is to circumvent state and federal laws.”

It’s now a schedule 1 controlled substance similar to amphetamines, both under Colorado and federal law, Wilson says.

Last year it was “K2” or “Spice.”

It’s supposed to be synthetic marijuana, except it’s not really. It causes hallucinations, depression and a high incidence of suicide, Hurlbert said.

Drug categories run Schedule 1 through Schedule 5, and they go like this:

Schedule 1: Highly addicting and no medical benefit, such as heroin and similar substances.

Schedule 2: Highly addicting, but at one time had a medical benefit, such as cocaine.

Schedules 3-5: Prescription drugs

Methamphetamine is still a problem in Grand Junction and Mesa County, and Glenwood Springs. Clear Creek County is seeing an increase in meth cases, Hurlbert said.

Even though we’re surrounded by it, we still have not seen a whole lot of it in Eagle County, Hurlbert said.

Part of it’s socioeconomic. We’re still seeing powder cocaine, Hurlbert said.

You’ll know a meth lab by its chemical smell, Hurlbert said.

“It’s extremely dangerous. The chemicals area volatile and can explode, Hurlbert said. “To clean up a meth lab, workers have to wear full body suits.”

But like so much else, economics are driving meth labs out of the country.

“We’re seeing fewer meth labs,” Hurlbert said.

Some of it stems from taking pseudoephedrine and ephedrine off store shelves and making people get it from their pharmacist.

Now, though, it’s being smuggled into the U.S. from Mexico.

“We see from time to time people smuggling illegal aliens, guns and drugs. That’s another way it comes in,” Hurlbert said.

Eagle County is what we’ll call a criminal anomaly. Even with the economy slumping, crime statistics have remained relatively flat.

“A large component of crime varies systematically with the economic cycle,” says the British Journal of Criminology.

Geography is also part of it, according to Poverties.org.

“The unmistakable characteristic of poverty and crime is that they’re both geographically concentrated in the same areas, which reveals the strong link between them,” says a Poverties.org study.

Most people commit crimes for the money, research shows. Generally, the better the economy the lower the crime rate.

“Research on the effects of crime on the general economic growth of local areas generally finds that areas with higher crime rates experience lower rates of economic growth and development,” write Thomas A. Garrett and Lesli S. Ott with the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

Because they’re bankers, they explain crime in economic terms: Is the cost to the individual – the probability of arrest and incarceration – outweigh the value of the illegally acquired goods?

Criminal behavior also depends factors such as loss of wages and jobs, say Garrett and Ott.

“The reasoning is that higher wages and employment opportunities decrease the attractiveness of acquiring assets through criminal activity,” they say.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

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