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In the pandemic, crime isn’t what it used to be

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Summit County Sheriff Justin Martinez

Summit County Sheriff’s Office

PARK CITY — For all its disruptions and derailments, here’s one nice dividend from the pandemic: It’s taking a big bite out of crime.

Just ask Justin Martinez. He’s the sheriff in Summit County, where a stay-at-home order has been in effect since March 27, meaning residents are asked to stay put, visitors are asked to stay out, and all but essential businesses and services have been ordered closed, resulting in the shuttering of restaurants (restricted to curbside and delivery only), bars, gyms, spas, libraries, movie theaters, clothes stores, shops, state parks and ski resorts, of which the county has many.

Here’s a summary of his report:

• DUI’s and public intoxication: Way down.

• Disrupting the peace: Ditto.

• Assault and battery: Negligible.

• Traffic stops: A shadow of what they were.

• Petty theft: Almost nonexistent.

• Bank robberies: Nada.

And so forth. There has, alas, been a “slight increase” in domestic violence, but for the most part, in Summit County crime is on holiday. Down well over 50% and dropping. Businesses aren’t being broken into because they’re not in business. Home break-ins aren’t happening because, as Sheriff Martinez explained, “the criminal element knows people are home.”

Crooks are dumb. They’re not that dumb.

“I’ll tell you what it’s like,” said the sheriff. “It’s like Sunday morning. On Sunday mornings, you wake up, most businesses are closed, people are sleeping in, there’s not a lot of people moving around. It’s like that every day now. It’s like that on Friday and Saturday nights. Every day is Groundhog Day, and every Groundhog Day is Sunday.”

This, of course, has changed, at least temporarily, what it means to be a cop.

“Officers are a very unique breed, they love the adrenaline rush, they love the chase, they love arresting people who need to be arrested,” explained Sheriff Martinez.

But now, he has 75 deputies with a lot less to chase. Their role has switched from reactive to proactive.

“I’ve basically redirected my patrol to be seen as much as possible; to let people know they are being watched over by the sheriff’s office,” said Sheriff Martinez.

Not only does this visible police presence act as a calming influence, but it can also be a deterrent to the new crime created by the pandemic: coming into the county as an outsider to recreate.

It is now technically a citable offense for a nonresident to hike up and ski or board down the snow-covered slopes of Summit County, which can be pretty tempting since they’re full of untouched powder.

“We’ve got a very small health care system, so if someone comes in, skins up and hurts themselves, that puts an extra strain on search and rescue and the hospital,” explained the sheriff.

Still, no one’s out there checking IDs to bust powder hounds.

“It’s hard to determine who is and who isn’t a resident and still maintain that 6-foot form of distancing,” said Martinez. “We have to implement other ways of control, like having a deputy parked at a major trailhead, and if they see that officer that may be enough to deter them.”

Meanwhile, the main thing the deputies have to worry about is getting fat.

“I don’t think my officers have ever eaten better in their lives,” said Martinez. “We’ve had a constant outpouring of people bringing in pizza, sandwiches, treats, toilet paper, hand sanitizer, you name it — anything to say thank you. We’re getting so much we had to start coordinating through our PIO. ‘OK, we’re actually covered for the next three days.’

“It’s been really amazing to see how the community has responded. At first, people weren’t sure what the (stay-at-home) order entailed. Some interpreted it would be a police state. That’s why we quickly put a memo out, dispelling myths and explaining no, this is not a police state. The compliance has been outstanding.

“It’s definitely changed how we’re doing law enforcement; but what hasn’t changed is we’re here to serve and protect.”

Oh, and as an added bonus, wish people happy birthday.

In their latest Facebook Post, the Summit County Sheriff’s Office posted this notice:

“Celebrating a birthday while staying home without friends and extended family can be difficult and boring. Let us help make your birthday celebration a little more fun! Give us a call to schedule a day and time for us to drive by and give a friendly wave, flash our lights and welp our siren. We will help celebrate any birthday!”

In the age of COVID-19, seeing a cop car in your driveway with its lights and siren on takes on a whole new meaning.