From the pages of
Pinedale Roundup
Volume 106, Number 18 - April 30, 2009
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

County felonies increase

by Jonathan Van Dyke

Early numbers indicate that crime might be on the rise in Sublette County.

“Our felonies have really increased in the last two months,” County Attorney Lucky McMahon said. “We’ve seen a huge influx in felonies.”

According to numbers generated by the Sublette County Attorney’s Office, it is seeing an increase in felonies by about 40 percent in 2009 compared to last year. Specifically, drug felony, burglary and larceny rates have all seen an increase through the first four months of the year, McMahon said.

Whether that stems from a statistical aberration or not remains to be seen. The Sublette County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO) was not alarmed by the trend for several reasons.

“Their caseload is going up because we’re solving more,” said Brian Ketterhagen, captain of investigations, commenting specifically on the burglaries and larcenies. “A high percentage of them are coming in with arrests being made. I think the deal is, they happened before, and they weren’t getting solved.

“If you’re asking if crime is up in the community? I don’t think so.”

Sheriff Wayne “Bardy” Bardin doesn’t see the numbers playing out for the whole year in a similar fashion.

“I don’t think it’s going to be a trend by any means,” he said. “It’s just an opportune time for some people to be doing the things they’re doing and fortunately they’re getting caught.”

He specifically applauded his growing team of officers.

“It’s happened in the past, when we haven’t been able to even come up with a suspect, but with the manpower we have now, especially at night, we have a lot better coverage,” Bardin said. “And that’s thanks to the county commissioners for letting us have more positions and having people out 24 hours a day.”

Outside of the county attorney’s office, local attorney John LaBuda has also noted a spike in his caseload.

“In general, there has been a great deal of cases filed lately, probably in the last three months, then compared to the last two years,” he said.

Outside of good police work, LaBuda conjectured a different theory.

“We’ve seen a huge influx, I think, of criminal activity,” he added. “And a lot of it could be triggered by the economy — where people have lost their jobs and are stressed out and maybe they have too much time on their hands, and that could be a problem.

“I think some of that criminal activity could be correlated to the economy.”

LaBuda estimated that his caseload had tripled from last year.

The difficulty with blaming the economy is that Sublette County has one the best unemployment rates in America. However, experts acknowledged that the increase could be due to all of these reasons: From aberrations, to good police work to the economy.

“A lot of people attribute the declining crime rates in the 90s to improved economics,” said Professor Eric Wodahl, University of Wyoming department of criminal justice. “If you take the reverse of that, when the economy gets worse then more crime will occur. “You do, however, need to be careful making too broad of statements in such a short time.”

And indeed, Bardin preached patience when assessing the early returns.

“They’re kind of like crimes of opportunity, and they seem to have happened over the last few months more than they have in the past,” he said. “But I don’t see a trend that this will continue into the summer months.”

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