Crime mostly down in north central Idaho

Kirk A. MacGregor

Crime reports for 2017 to 2018 recently released by the Idaho State Police show that, while overall crime is down in most of the five north central Idaho counties, it is up significantly in Idaho County.

The crime rate dropped in Lewis (37.82 percent), Latah (23.52 percent) and Clearwater (15.09 percent) counties in 2018, while Nez Perce County saw an increase of 3.15 percent.

In Idaho County, however, that jump was 18.54 percent in overall crime and up 89.6 percent in drug and narcotic crimes.

Idaho County Prosecutor Kirk A. MacGregor believes the hike, which has been steadily growing over the past four to five years, can be directly tied to the Legislature’s failure to fully fund the Justice Reinvestment Act.

“There’s definitely a really big increase in drug crime,” MacGregor said. “And one of the problems that I see is that we don’t have enough felony probation officers for Idaho County.”

In Idaho County from 2017 to 2019, drug and narcotics crime went from 125 incidents to 237, a rise of 89.6 percent. Motor vehicle theft was up 75 percent, from four incidents to seven; weapons violations went from 6 to 8, or 33.3 percent; assault was up 28.4 percent, from 81 to 104; and sex crimes were down 75 percent, from four incidents to seven.

Motor vehicle theft and stolen property crimes in Clearwater County rose slightly from 2017 to 2018, from four to five incidents. All other crimes were down, including drugs and narcotics, from 92 incidents to 87, or 5.43 percent; sex crimes from 5 to 3, or 40 percent; burglary down 71.54 percent, from 123 to 35; and assault down 21.62 percent, from 111 to 87.

Lewis County was down in every category except burglary, which stayed the same, at seven incidents. Drug and narcotics crimes were down 55.5 percent, from 36 to 16, and there were no sex crimes.

The Justice Reinvestment Act was an attempt by the Idaho Legislature to reduce the number of people in state penitentiaries by increasing the number of probation officers to supervise low-level offenders, MacGregor said.

“The theory was if you had better supervision and more probation officers, they could keep a better eye on the probationers and crime would go down.

“They approved about 26 new probation officers in the state. Twenty-four of those went to Ada County and Canyon County. So there was no increase in probation officers in Idaho County; it just remained the same.

“This big Justice Reinvestment Act didn’t have any effect on Idaho County because we don’t have any more probation officers than we had before,” MacGregor added. “In fact, I think supervision is even down more now than it was four to six years ago.”

MacGregor said a few years ago there were two full-time probation officers in the county; that’s now reduced to one. He emphasized that he is not blaming probation officers, but pointed out there are fewer people trying to keep tabs on a greater number of violators.

“They don’t have the funding to get out there and supervise everyone,” the prosecutor said. “If (the Legislature) is worried about putting more people in prison, they need to invest in more probation for the rural counties. Put their money there and I think that would cut down on the prison population.”

Idaho County Sheriff Doug Giddings disputes that the Legislature is responsible for the increase in crime statistics.

“The Legislature, they don’t have anything to do with crime,” Giddings said. “We already have 10 million codes on the books. (The increase in county numbers) is because we’ve arrested more people. You’ve got guys out there doing their job better. We’ve got some guys that are really active and know what to look for. You get more arrests and that’s how the crime rate goes up.”

Clearwater County Sheriff Chris Goetz said crime statistics ebb and flow, and are sometimes determined by the season of the year.

But his department has been successful at keeping crime rates down, he said, “because we’ve been running a full staff for about a year. Having more officers out there, being more proactive, has been a benefit for us.”

Goetz said his officers have put more focus on trying to solve property crimes, which are often linked with drugs and narcotics.

During the summer, however, “it’s a real challenge for us. People are recreating all the way to Montana. The lakes are full, they’re floating the river, there are more transients, more campers. So, for me, it’s more the time of year (that makes a difference in the number of crimes), just because we’re so spread out.”

The full report on crime in Idaho may be accessed at https://nibrs.isp.idaho.gov/CrimeInIdaho. Information is listed by county and statewide.

Hedberg may be contacted at kathyhedberg@gmail.com or (208) 983-2326.

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