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Economy, crime connection murky in Vail Valley

Dustin Racioppi
dracioppi@vaildaily.com
Vail, CO Colorado

VAIL VALLEY, Colorado ” The stock market numbers go down in New York and in many areas of Colorado’s Vail Valley, the crime numbers go up.

Theft cases in the county have hit a new high. Domestic violence cases continue to funnel through the courts. Identity theft and fraud are becoming more common than ever before.



The problem for law enforcement is trying to determine whether there is a correlation between the economy and the crime that’s occurring.

For Eagle County Sheriff Joe Hoy, the economy surely plays a factor. But how much?



“It’s hard to make the assumption. I don’t like to assume a whole lot,” he said. “I think in some ways were are still a little bit isolated, but we are seeing the affects of it.”

Minturn Police Chief Lorenzo Martinez says his department hasn’t seen any signs of economic strife playing into its investigations. Like Hoy, he believes the Vail Valley is still one of the last in line to feel the effects of the sluggish market.

“I don’t see any evidence of anything going on yet,” he said.



There’s no hard evidence in Vail, either. Police Chief Dwight Henninger said aside from an increase in ski and snowboard thefts, there haven’t been any indications that crime has an economic motive. Even with the stolen skis and snowboards, he isn’t sure if there’s a link. It could be because of the holidays, he said.

In order to make a connection between the economy and crime, Henninger said it would take months of poring over records and launching investigations to say for sure.

And Vail is obviously different, Henninger said, because of its residents, visitors and culture.

“We’re pretty lucky that the crime we have is all revolved around the Bridge Street shuffle and people drinking too much,” he said.

The county’s district attorney, Mark Hurlbert, sees another side of crime in the county that he can definitely attribute to the tension brewing nationwide.

“When the economy goes down, you see more crimes ” more domestic violence, more property crimes, things like that,” he said. “I see that continuing to go up in Eagle County.”

Hurlbert has a good frame of reference, too. He’s also the district attorney for Lake, Summit and Clear Creek counties. Their crime rates have stayed flat since the recession, he said.

“It’s just Eagle County,” he said.

But he still won’t say definitively that the economy and crime have a direct relationship.

“It’s hard to tell, but that’s certainly a a part,” he said. “Certainly when you have the additional stress of not having any money or not having a job, that contributes. Throw in alcohol and illegal drugs and it gets worse.”

In Avon, the town’s crime rates have actually gone down, but Police Chief Brian Kozak said that doesn’t mean the crimes are staying the same.

“The numbers that we’re seeing have been forgery and fraud-type crimes,” he said.

And given the financial signs permeating airwaves and headlines, his department is preparing for a busier-than-usual 2009.

Along with Eagle police and the sheriff’s office, Kozak said the three agencies are forming the Multi Agency Crime Enforcement team, which will follow crime trends and immediately try and stomp them out by making arrests and providing assistance to people and families.

He also said, like Hurlbert, alcohol and drugs also will be a problem so long as the economy is in the tank.

“We are expecting more domestic violence problems, more alcohol-related cases,” Kozak said. “People tend to self-medicate themselves with alcohol to deal with the stress, but it often leads to a bad situation. We expect those calls to increase.”

Hurlbert also expects to see the calls, cases and paperwork increase, especially if the population increases as it’s projected to.

“We are preparing for a very, very busy year,” he said.

Dustin Racioppi can be reached at 970-748-2936 or dracioppi@vaildaily.com.


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