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OLD MAN WINTER CREDITED WITH PUTTING CRIMINALS ON ICE

SHARE OLD MAN WINTER CREDITED WITH PUTTING CRIMINALS ON ICE

Call them fair-weather felons. Crooks who came in from the cold.

While recent snowfall can be blamed for scores of fender-benders and car insurance claims, the elements seemed to have put a freeze on many Salt Lake Valley criminals.Reports of assaults, shootings, robberies, burglaries and even drug dealing have declined in several Wasatch Front cities over the past few weeks.

"We've seen drops in everything from gang-related offenses to gas drive-offs . . . the consistent snowfall seems to have slowed everything down," said South Salt Lake Police Sgt. Beau Babka.

Indeed, would-be get-away routes have become slush bogs, and folks making curbside drug buys run the risk of getting stuck in snowbanks. Sandy police even nabbed a pair of business burglars Thursday by following footprints in the snow from the store to the bandits' home.

Cold weather also hedges crime opportunities. "There are fewer people out on the streets, so there are fewer people who could become crime victims," said Babka.

Still, other crooks are apparently nonplussed with Winter '96 - occasionally even enlisting the elements for law-breaking. A man in West Valley recently tossed a snowball at a passing car. When the motorist stopped to confront him, the man brandished a gun and demanded money. The motorist refused, got in his car and drove away.

"If criminals need money, they'll find a way to get it," said Murray Police Lt. Pete Fondaco, adding he's observed little difference in crime despite the snowfall.

Salt Lake County deputy sheriffs have dealt with fewer property crimes and vandalism complaints, "but gang-related crime, robbery and assaults have continued," said Sgt. Jim Potter. "We even had a home invasion robbery."

Wintry weather also benefits car thieves.

"Lots of people leave their car running when they stop at places like convenience stores. . . . (Thieves) are just waiting for that kind of opportunity" said Salt Lake Police Lt. Phil Kirk.

Regardless of criminal activity, police officers have had little time to relax. Traffic accident investigations often consume entire shifts, and frigid weather sometimes sparks family fights.

"We've actually seen a jump in domestic disputes," said Sandy Police spokesman David Lundberg. "People are indoors, so you have problems with unruly kids and fighting couples."