The city of Durango held its first Engage Durango Forum on Tuesday, where Durango Police Chief Bob Brammer discussed livability with about 30 attendees and hinted at overhauling the city’s municipal court system to address petty crimes in town.
Brammer said quality of life crimes in Durango, such as illegal camping, littering, open consumption of drugs and alcohol, theft and trespassing surged this past summer compared to May through July of 2022.
For example, the police department recorded 25 petty drug violations this past summer versus 11 petty drug violations in summer 2022. It counted 261 instances of trespassing in summer 2022, which shot up to 514 trespasses this past summer.
The city’s ranger and code enforcement removed 111 illegal camps in July and another 58 illegal camps in August following the closure of Purple Cliffs on La Posta Road (County Road 213) last fall.
Brammer said the closure of Purple Cliffs has led to more quality of life crimes permeating through Durango because the people committing them are no longer self-contained at Purple Cliffs — a scenario DPD heralded in the lead up to the illegal hillside camp’s closure last October.
“I assure you that what we are doing is we are focusing our efforts wholeheartedly with humanity and compassion (to get) people services to be able to work them through this. But these are the impacts we continue to see,” he said.
He said law enforcement has changed nationally over the years to prioritize enforcement as a last resort, with education and environmental designs first options to dealing with people committing quality of life crimes.
“We don’t always want to take enforcement action first unless we have to,” he said. “ … It's very easy to criminalize pretty much any behavior. But that’s not necessarily the change we want to make in order to get somebody to not (commit crimes).”
City attorney Mark Morgan is working on improving the city’s municipal court system, which is vital to addressing quality of life crimes, Brammer said.
“The only way we are going to be able to address these issues is through the municipal court,” he said. “All of those quality of life issues. We can’t send them to district court.”
Court-ordered substance abuse and mental health treatments are useful tools to prevent crime and help people address their quality of life issues, Brammer said.
“If you provide somebody with court-ordered mental health treatment, court-ordered alcohol treatment, court-ordered drug treatment and then there’s a consequence on the back side of that if you fail to live up to those expectations of what that is, then (there can be consequences),” he said.
Brammer also said jail isn’t always a bad place for people struggling with addiction and mental health issues, because relevant services for those issues are present in jails.
“ (Care Court) is a way for the court system to work with law enforcement and other advocacy groups out there to basically court-order these types of treatments,” he said. “Break that cycle, and then there’s a good chance you can work toward housing solutions, stable (lives).”
The next Engage Durango Forum is scheduled for Nov. 28.