ST. GEORGE —St. George Police Chief Marlon Stratton spoke to members of the community about crime statistics, collisions, drugs and other issues of concern in the area Wednesday at a luncheon hosted by the St. George Chamber of Commerce.
“I want to do everything that I can possibly do to make sure that St. George continues to be an outstanding place to live,” said Stratton, who has worked for the Police Department for over 30 years and has been serving as the Chief of Police for 14 years.
The St. George Police Department is one of the largest in the state, Stratton said, with 104 police officers, about 45 civilian employees and 35 volunteers.
The department plays a big role in the community. It is the lead agency for the Washington County Drug Task Force, and dispatch services for all of Washington County are provided by the St. George Police Department, as well.
“We dispatch for all police, fire and medical in the entire county and, as you can imagine,” Stratton said, “that’s a tremendous responsibility.”
Stratton said the Police Department’s philosophy is to take care of the little problems before they become bigger problems.
What goes up must come down
Although, some crime statistic rates are dependent upon whether or not the department is aggressively and proactively enforcing laws and whether people are being caught for crimes they’ve committed, St. George crime rates have fallen.
The chance of becoming a victim of either violent or property crime in St. George is 1 in 489, according to national statistics, making St. George 38 percent safer than other cities in the U.S.
Among the crime rates that have seen a decrease within the last five years are: homicide, forgery, burglary, aggravated assault, shoplifting, theft, drugs and DUI, Stratton said. Vehicle burglaries have also gone down.
“I’ve got to tell you,” Stratton said, “vehicle burglaries are interesting because unfortunately, and it causes us a lot of frustration, often, people will go into the store, they leave their car unlocked, they leave their purse on the front seat and computer on the backseat and then, when they come back out and it’s gone, they’re amazed.”
The department strongly encourages everyone to take ordinary precautions, he said, such as locking doors and placing items out of sight to protect their property.
Stratton said fraud rates have stayed about the same over the past five years, along with criminal mischief, or vandalism, which has also stayed about the same.
Armed robbery, however, has gone up, which Stratton said is concerning, especially for business owners.
Prostitution is another crime on the rise, Stratton said, and added:
I saw a couple of you chuckle but prostitution is something that’s a real issue here. Some people have said ‘Chief, why do you care, why do you worry about it?’ Well, we had one individual that he took his 5-month-old baby in a carrier to meet a prostitute. We’ve had people that have tried to pay for services with methamphetamine, and heroin and cocaine. And we’ve seen in Salt Lake where there have been some situations that, in fact, across the country, where sometimes young women are found by the maid that have been murdered in the hotel rooms. And so, whether you agree or not, that’s an issue and a concern that we take very seriously that we need to pay attention to.
There are also people who may not think there are gangs in this area, Stratton said, and if that’s their perception, it is a good thing.
“I tell them ‘thank you, we take that as a compliment’ because if you don’t see it, you don’t deal with it then we’re doing our job,” he said. “We really try to be proactive with gangs. Outlaw motorcycle gangs, we’re starting to see several of those move into our community and so that’s an issue that we need to be aware of it.”
Attitude on the asphalt
Stratton said the department has their work cut out for them in trying to reduce crashes on the city streets.
“I often have people contact me and say ‘you know, Chief, I don’t know what’s going on but I think St. George has got the craziest drivers of anywhere in the country’ and I think some of you might agree,” he said. “It’s almost like a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde kind of a thing. You know, they are the most incredible people in this community but boy, you get them behind the wheel of a car and watch out.”
“Notice, I don’t call them accidents,” he said. “They’re not really accidents, they’re crashes. They’re caused.”
Stratton said it’s doing the simple things in the community that makes the biggest difference.
“When you’re driving down Bluff Street and you see someone in the lane to the right of you and they’re signaling to turn left, what kind of a driver are you?” he asked. “Do you speed up because you can’t let them in or do you back off and let them in and wave? You know, those kinds of things. It’s those little things that make such a difference.”
He also added people would be amazed at how many road rage cases that occur in the area.
“People will do something on the road, they’ll cut somebody off and they’ll turn and,” he said, “they actually chase them down, drag them out the window and physically assault them.”
Distracted driving is also a very big concern in the area. Stratton said he has seen the heartache caused by people distracted by their phone which resulted in a collision, and he said he encourages people: please do not use the phone while driving.
“Think in your mind who you love the most in the whole world,” he said. “Think who that is. Imagine what it would be like if Deputy Chief Farnsworth and I came knocking on your door today to tell you they’d been killed because somebody was using their phone.”
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(Videocast by Kimberly Scott, St. George News)
The high dragging down the city
Though statistics show drugs have decreased in the area, Stratton said that’s not necessarily a good indication because there is a significant amount of drugs in the area and, he said, drug addiction fuels crime.
“Frankly, we find that drugs are somehow related to most crimes,” he said.
Among the drugs causing the biggest challenges and concerns in the area, Stratton said, are heroin, methamphetamine, marijuana and prescription drugs.
“I’ve got to tell you,” Stratton said, “there’s probably not a person in this room, myself included, that hasn’t had family members or friends somehow impacted by drugs. It’s a real challenge for us.”
He went on to say that sometimes people have a tendency to believe that addicts are “bad guys” and, he said, that’s not the case. A lot of good families are impacted by drugs, he said.
Stratton said the department sees a tremendous abuse of prescription pills.
“In many cases,” he said, “people start out, might have had an injury or something and they use prescription drugs and then, when we can’t get the prescription drugs any longer then a lot of people transition over to heroin because it’s cheaper and it’s much easier to get.”
He said what is really concerning is that there are multiple drug overdoses in St. George every week.
“This is really having a big impact on people’s lives,” he said. “Sadly, we see some young people between 15 and 25-30 that actually die from the drug overdoses.”
Stratton said the drugs in the area is a community problem.
“It’s not just something that one individual or one group needs to deal with,” he said. “We all need to deal with it and we all need to do what we can do to stop that.”
Currently, the department is working closely with the Drug Enforcement Agency. Stratton said they met with DEA supervisors out of Salt Lake on Tuesday to partner with them in going after the people that are bringing drugs into the community.
I really believe that our quality of life is incumbent upon every single one of us in everything that we do every single day. Again, it’s those little things. How do we treat each other? Do we help each other? Those kinds of things. That is the key to the quality of life that we love and enjoy.
The one thing that I’ve learned, there are a lot of people out there that are really struggling. There are a lot of people out there that are really hurting. There are a lot of people out there that need the hand of friendship. They need someone to reach out to them and to help them. And I would encourage us again, in everything that we do every single day, do those little things to go out of our way to be nice – to go out of our way to help other people because it makes an incredible difference in their lives.
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