Steven Byers, Ph.D. is the Senior Economist with Common Sense Institute. Steven’s experience as an economist spans twenty-three years, including work at federal regulatory agencies (SEC, CFTC, PCAOB) and quantitative economic analysis supporting international trade litigation cases brought before the U.S. International Trade Commission.
2023 Owens – Early Criminal Justice Fellows
George Brauchler served as the elected District Attorney for the 18th Judicial District, Colorado’s most populous district, which includes Arapahoe, Douglas, Elbert, and Lincoln counties, from 2013-2021. As a state prosecutor, he handled the felony cases from the Columbine High School mass shooting case, the Aurora Theater (Batman) mass shooting case, and more recently, the STEM Academy school mass shooting case.
Mitch Morrissey served as the elected District Attorney for the 2nd Judicial District covering Denver, Colorado from 2005-2017. Mitch is internationally recognized for his expertise in DNA technology and applying that technology to solve crimes. He has trained law enforcement officers and prosecutors throughout the United States, the Middle East, Central America, and Canada. He currently runs a company that solves Cold Cases with DNA and Investigative Genetic Genealogy
In 2023, Coloradans will have municipal elections in our most populated cities. To inform these debates CSI will produce reports on the most pressing issues facing Colorado cities: crime, housing, and homelessness for Fort Collins, Denver, Colorado Springs, Grand Junction, Pueblo, and Aurora.
Common Sense Institute is a non-partisan research organization dedicated to the protection and promotion of Colorado’s and Arizona’s economies. CSI is at the forefront of important discussions concerning the future of free enterprise in Colorado and aims to have an impact on the issues that matter most to Coloradans and Arizonans. CSI’s mission is to examine the fiscal impacts of policies, initiatives, and proposed laws so that Coloradans and Arizonans are educated and informed on issues impacting their lives. CSI employs rigorous research techniques and dynamic modeling to evaluate the potential impact of these measures on the Colorado and Arizona economies and individual opportunity.
CSI is committed to independent, in-depth research that examines the impacts of policies, initiatives, and proposed laws so that Coloradans and Arizonans are educated and informed on issues impacting their lives. CSI’s commitment to institutional independence is rooted in the individual independence of our researchers, economists, and fellows. At the core of CSI’s mission is a belief in the power of the free enterprise system. Our work explores ideas that protect and promote jobs and the economy, and the CSI team and fellows take part in this pursuit with academic freedom. Our team’s work is informed by data-driven research and evidence. The views and opinions of fellows do not reflect the institutional views of CSI. CSI operates independently of any political party and does not take positions.
Table of Contents
Since 2019, crime in Colorado has skyrocketed to become a major issue for policy makers across the state. Ahead of local municipal elections, CSI is highlighting important issues, including crime, that voters care about at the local level. This report analyzes the current state of Mesa County through the lens of crime and crime rates. Common Sense Institute (CSI) focused data from Colorado Crime Statistics and the Mesa County Police Department.[i]
One of the goals of the Common Sense Institute is to offset fear with facts. Media reports and anecdotal observations might not present the full picture. Data of actual crime events, especially when compared to the experiences of other jurisdictions and the entire state, can clarify the reality of a given community. Statewide crime statistics combine both urban and rural areas, and therefore vary from individual cities. The news about Mesa County shows a more optimistic picture than other cities as the crime rate has been declining. Within Mesa County, the majority of crime occurs in Grand Junction, though the share of crime in unincorporated areas is growing and the crime rate in these areas is rising slightly. These trends can be impacted by policy makers and other leaders who study the data collected and analyzed in this report.
The number of incidents of crime in Mesa County, represented by the red line in Figure 1, has averaged 8,506 since 2010 and fluctuated between 7,783 and 9,282. The volatility in total crime incidents was driven by changes in property crimes, including vandalism, burglary, shoplifting, theft from motor vehicles, narcotic and drug violations, and theft of motor vehicles. The change in the annual number of incidents of crime in Mesa County contrasts with a steady increase in the incidents of crime at the state level.
Figure 1 – Number of Crime Incidents in Mesa County and Colorado
- Crime in Mesa County has risen slightly since 2010:
- From 2008 to 2020 the crime rate in Mesa County was higher than in Colorado. But in 2021, Colorado’s crime rate exceeded Mesa County’s.
- Mesa County’s average monthly crime rate in 2022 was 5.252, lower than Colorado’s 5.622. It has risen 3.3% since 2010 while Colorado’s crime rate has increased by 30.1%.
- The 3.3% increase in the crime rate was primarily driven by a 54.6% increase in crimes against persons.
- The crime rate for crimes against property fell by 12.5%.
- The crime rate for crimes against society increased by 25.1%.
- The rate of auto theft, 0.193 per 1,000, is less than 1/3 of the state auto theft rate, 0.664 per 1,000.
- Grand Junction is the primary source of crime:
- In 2022, crime in Mesa County is primarily driven by crime in Grand Junction with 60% of the incidents and 42.5% of the population, 34% of incidents occurred in unincorporated areas where there is 47.1% of the population. Fruita’s share is 4.7% and Palisade accounts for 1.2% of all crime incidents, see table below.
|Share of Crime Incidents, Share of Population, and Ratio of Share of Incidents to Share of Population in Mesa County by Jurisdiction|
|Share of Mesa County Incidents||Share of Mesa County Population||Ratio of Share of Incidents to Share of Population|
|Unincorporated Mesa County||34.0%||47.1%||0.72|
- Incidents of crime in Fruita fell by 3.6% from 2018 to 2022.
- Incidents of crime in Palisade were flat over the period 2018 to 2022.
- Incidents in unincorporated areas have risen slightly, 0.5% from 2018 to 2022.
- Arrests in Mesa County have Increased since 2010.
- Arrests in Mesa County have increased by 3.2% since 2010 and are driven primarily by arrests in unincorporated areas by the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office.
- The arrest rate in Mesa County 2022 (arrestees/incidents) is flat relative to 2010 at 86.3%. The change in the arrest rate over the same period declined 0.2% in Grand Junction, increased 31.3% in Fruita, 41.8% in Palisade, and 36.5% in unincorporated areas.
- Spending per person on law enforcement in Mesa County has increased as the population has grown as can be seen in the following table.
|Change in Population and Spending per Person on Law Enforcement|
|Change in Population since 2018||Change in Spending per Persons since 2018|
|Grand Junction (Police Dept.)||4.8%||22.4%|
|Fruita (Police Dept.)||-1.5%||8.6%|
|Palisade (Police Dept.)||2.7%||1.7%|
|Mesa County (Sheriff’s Dept)*||3.0%||11.5|
|*This estimate is from 2019 to 2022, based on data availability|
- From 2014 to 2022 average annual spending increased in each law enforcement jurisdiction as follows:
- Grand Junction – spending growth exceeded population growth by 4.7 to 1.
- Fruita – spending growth exceeded population growth by approximately 10 to 1.
- Palisade – spending growth was below population growth by 37%.
- Mesa County – spending by the Mesa County Sheriff’s Department outpaced population growth in unincorporated Mesa County by a ratio of 3.8 to 1.
The data in this section comes from Colorado Crime Statistics. Figure 2 shows the evolution of the average monthly crime rates in Mesa County and Colorado since 2010. The average monthly crime rate per 1,000 residents in Mesa County has risen by 3.3% from 5.09 per 1,000 residents in 2010 to 5.25 in 2022. As of 2022, Mesa County’s crime rate (5.252) is 6.6% lower than Colorado’s (5.62). In 2010, Mesa County’s crime rate, 5.085 was 18.8% higher than for Colorado, 4.282. Since 2010, Mesa County’s crime rate was generally above Colorado until 2021, with large fluctuations in some years.
Figure 2 – Average Monthly Crime Rate per 1,000 Residents in Mesa County and Colorado
Figure 3 shows the average monthly rates of crime against persons per 1,000 residents in Mesa County and Colorado. From 2010 to 2022, Mesa County’s rate of crime against persons rose by 54.6% from 0.79 to 1.22 while Colorado’s rose by 49% from 0.69 to 1.03. Crimes against persons are a primary driver for the overall increase in the crime rate. Aggravated and simple assault saw increases of 27.7% and 61.9% respectively and robbery increased 66.7%. Table A1 in the appendices provides details on all crimes against persons.
Figure 3 – Average Monthly Rates of Crime against Persons per 1,000 Residents in Mesa County and Colorado
Figure 4 shows the average monthly rate of crime against property per 1,000 residents in Mesa County and Colorado. From 2010 to 2022, Mesa County’s rate declined by 12.5% from 3.57 to 3.12 while Colorado’s rose by 30% from 3.1 to 4.06. The majority of the difference between Mesa County and Colorado is because auto theft rates and thefts related to automobiles are much higher along the Front Range than in Mesa County. In 2022, the auto theft rate in Mesa County was 0.193 per 1,000 residents, an increase of 81.3% since 2010, whereas in Denver it was 1.72 per 1,000 residents, an increase of 276% since 2010. Table A1 in the appendices provides details on all crimes against property.
Figure 4 – Average Monthly Rates of Crime against Property per 1,000 Residents in Mesa County and Colorado
Figure 5 shows the average monthly rate of crime against society per 1,000 residents in Mesa County and Colorado. From 2010 to 2022, Mesa County’s rate increased by 25.1% from 0.73 to 0.92 while Colorado’s rose by 7.1% from 0.49 to 0.53. Crimes against society include drug/narcotic violations, gambling and betting violations, pornography, prostitution, and weapons violations. Table A1 in the appendix provides specific statistics for all categories of crimes against society.
Figure 5 – Average Monthly Rates of Crime against Society per 1,000 Residents in Mesa County and Colorado
Crimes against society include all crimes that are not crimes against persons or property. These include drug and narcotic violations, illegal betting and wagering, illegal gambling operations, illegal pornography, prostitution, and weapons violations.
Table 1 shows average monthly crime rates by major crime category in 2014, 2018, and 2022, as well as their changes from 2014 to 2018 and from 2018 to 2022. The overall crime rate in Mesa County increased by 7.2% from 2014 to 2018 and decreased by 7.6% from 2018 to 2022. Crime against persons rose by 16.5% from 2018 to 2022, triple the increase between 2014 and 2018 (5.3%). Crime against property increased by 1.9% from 2014 to 2018 and then declined by 12.7% from 2018 to 2022. Crime against society decreased by 14.0% from 2018 to 2022 after increasing by 33.0% from 2014 to 2018.
Some of the larger increases occurred in robbery, which increased by 66.7% from 2018 to 2022 after a 52.6% decline between 2014 and 2018, intimidation, which rose by 63.0% from 2018 to 2022 after an 89.5% increase between 2014 and 2018, aggravated assault, which increased by 14.7% from 2018 to 2022 following a 6.1% decrease between 2014 and 2018, and auto theft increased by 22.8% from 2018 to 2022 concurrent with a statewide increase. A more comprehensive version of Table 1 showing all categories of crime is provided in Table A1 in the appendix.
|Table 1 – Mesa County and Colorado Average Monthly Crime Rate per 1,000 Residents|
|Average Monthly Crime Rate by Category of Crime||2014||2018||2022||2014-2018||2018-2022|
|Crimes Against Person||Colorado||0.797||0.953||1.031||19.7%||8.1%|
|Crimes Against Property||Colorado||3.285||3.498||4.059||6.5%||16.0%|
|Crimes Against Society||Colorado||0.468||0.636||0.532||35.8%||-16.4%|
|Weapons Law Violation||Colorado||0.065||0.087||0.116||33.3%||33.7%|
|Theft from Motor Vehicles||Colorado||0.338||0.427||0.465||26.4%||9.0%|
|Source: Colorado Crime Statistics|
Figure 6 shows the average monthly crime rates per 1,000 residents in Mesa County and all jurisdictions within Mesa County. Crimes rates in Mesa County closely track those of Colorado. However, within the county, Grand Junction crime rates are higher than the county and Colorado and are the primary driver of crimes rate in the County.
From 2014 to 2018, Mesa County experienced a 7.2% increase in the crime rate. The crime rate in Grand Junction increased 6.8%, in Fruita it increased 70.9%, Palisade’s crime increased 81.2%, and in unincorporated area it increased 25.4%.
From 2018 to 2022, crime rates went down in all jurisdictions in Mesa County. The crime rate in Mesa County decreased 7.6%, in Grand Junction it 10.3%, in Fruita it fell 56%, Palisade experienced a 77.8% decline, and in unincorporated Mesa County (Mesa County Sheriff) it fell 6.1%
Figure 6 – Average Monthly Crime Rates per 1,000 Residents – Mesa County and Other Mesa County Jurisdictions
|Table 2 – Average Monthly Crime Rate per 1,000 Residents by Jurisdiction|
|City/Jurisdiction||2014||2018||2022||Change 2014-2018||Change 2018-2022|
|Grand Junction Police Department||7.99||8.54||7.66||6.8%||-10.3%|
|Mesa County Sheriff’s Office||3.15||3.95||3.71||25.4%||-6.1%|
As shown in Figure 7, the majority of crime incidents occur in Grand Junction followed by unincorporated Mesa County.
Figure 7 – Number of Crime Incidents – Mesa County by Jurisdiction
|Table 3 – Number of Crime Incidents by Jurisdiction|
|City/Jurisdiction||2014||2018||2022||Change 2014-2018||Change 2018-2022|
|Grand Junction Police Department||4,865||5,409||4,835||11.2%||-10.6%|
|Mesa County Sheriff’s Office||2,578||2,728||2,741||5.8%||0.5%|
|Table 4 – Share of Total Number of Crime Incidents by Jurisdiction|
|City/Jurisdiction||2014||2018||2022||Change 2014-2018||Change 2018-2022|
|Grand Junction Police Department||60.8%||62.7%||60.0%||3.1%||-4.2%|
|Mesa County Sheriff’s Office||32.2%||31.6%||34.0%||-1.9%||7.6%|
Figure 8 shows the number of arrests and the number of incidents of crime in Mesa County. Over a period when the number of incidents of crime had been flat since 2010, the number of arrests in Mesa County rose from 2010 through 2017, before dropping 34.1% from 2017 to 2020. Following 2020, the number of arrests has increased by 26.2% but have not fully returned to pre-pandemic levels.
Figure 8– Number of Arrests vs. Total Incidents of Crime – Mesa County
Figure 9 shows the arrest rates (arrests/incidents) by each law enforcement jurisdiction. Arrests rates tend to fluctuate from year to year for each jurisdiction though they are fairly stable for the entire period 2008 to 2022. Arrest rates plummeted in 2020 as result of the pandemic and have all rebounded towards long run averages.
Figure 9 – Arrest Rates by Jurisdiction in Mesa County
Table 5 shows the arrest rates and changes in arrest rates, calculated as arrests/incidents, for all jurisdictions in Mesa County. The arrest rate for Mesa County is relatively unchanged over the period 2010 to 2022, while arrests rates in Grand Junction have decreased by 14.6% from 2010 to 2022. Over the same time period the arrest rate by the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office has increased by 36.5% at a time when incidents in unincorporated areas fell by 6.1%. Arrest rates in Fruita and Palisade have increased 31.3% and 41.8% respectively, but they are both a very small share of the total incidents in the county.
|Table 5 – Arrests Rates by Jurisdiction in Mesa County|
|2014||2018||2022||Change 2014 to 2018||Change 2018 to 2022||Change 2010 to 2022|
|Grand Junction Police Department||100.9%||86.7%||84.9%||-14.1%||-2.0%||-14.6%|
|Mesa County Sheriff’s Office||98.3%||107.9%||89.2%||9.7%||-17.4%||36.5%|
Figure 10 shows estimated spending on policing per person per year by each of the law enforcement agencies in Mesa County and spending per person on law enforcement and in Colorado overall. Spending was pulled from annual reports for cities and the county and included personnel wages, benefits, purchased professional services and operating expenses. Spending per person by all law enforcement agencies has been increasing. From 2018 to 2022, spending per person by the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office increased 11.4%, Fruita’s increased 19.3%, Palisade’s increased 22%. CSI was unable to acquire data in Grand Junction prior to 2019, so from 2019 to 2022, spending per person by the Grand Junction Police Department increased 22.5%.
Figure 10 –Per Capita Spending on Police in Mesa County Jurisdictions
The information in this report is intended to help voters and elected officials better understand the key areas of concern, so as to better focus policy and resource discussions. The crime rate in Mesa County has generally been higher than in Colorado until 2021. However, in contrast to Colorado, the crime rate in Mesa County, though very volatile from year to year, has declined slightly in the past 12 years, while Colorado’s has increased dramatically. Grand Junction is the primary driver of crime though crime in unincorporated areas is increasing as well. Two concerning trends are the 11.3% increase in the violent crime rate and a 25.2% increase in the rate for crimes against society.
|Table A1 – Crime Rates in Mesa County|
|Category of Crime||2014||2018||2022||Change 2014-2018||Change 2018-2022|
|Crimes against Person||0.99||1.04||1.22||5.3%||16.5%|
|Murder and Nonnegligent Manslaughter||0.01||0.01||0.01||0.0%||0.0%|
|Sexual Assault with an Object||0.01||0.01||0.02||0.0%||100.0%|
|Human Trafficking, Commercial Sex Acts||0.01|
|Human Trafficking, Involuntary Servitude|
|Crimes against Property||3.51||3.57||3.12||1.9%||-12.7%|
|Burglary/Breaking & Entering||0.310||0.310||0.267||0.0%||-14.0%|
|Destruction/Damage/Vandalism of Property||0.87||0.85||0.86||-2.8%||2.2%|
|False Pretenses/Swindle/Confidence Game||0.03||0.04||0.07||19.5%||59.2%|
|Credit Card/Automated Teller Machine Fraud||0.04||0.05||0.02||43.2%||-60.3%|
|Theft from Building||0.26||0.20||0.22||-23.5%||11.1%|
|Theft from Coin Operated Machine or Device||0.01||0.01||0.0%|
|Theft from Motor Vehicle||0.353||0.446||0.293||26.5%||-34.4%|
|Theft of Motor Vehicle Parts/Accessories||0.09||0.08||0.09||-10.4%||12.6%|
|All Other Larceny||0.62||0.65||0.51||4.3%||-20.8%|
|Motor Vehicle Theft||0.127||0.158||0.193||24.3%||22.8%|
|Stolen Property Offenses||0.02||0.03||0.02||63.6%||-17.5%|
|Crimes against Society||0.80||1.07||0.92||33.0%||-14.0%|
|Drug Equipment Violations||0.31||0.41||0.38||32.0%||-7.3%|
|Gambling Equipment Violations||0.01|
|Assisting or Promoting Prostitution||0.01||0.01||0.03||0.0%||200.0%|
|Weapon Law Violations||0.09||0.09||0.10||4.8%||8.2%|
|Non-consensual Sex Offenses||0.10||0.11||0.10||2.4%||-7.1%|