6 in 1 year: Colfax way above national average for sexual assaults; other serious crime also increasing

COLFAX — Colfax Police Chief Pete Gehring wants people to realize that Colfax is not just a “sleepy little town where nothing ever happens.”

“I was going through our reports for the end of the year for 2012, and our serious crime is up 400 percent,” Police Chief Gehring said.

But it gets worse.

“Juvenile sexual assaults are up 500 percent. Last year (2011) there was one. This year, there have been six,” he said.

Six sexual assaults in the Village of Colfax.

In a small town like Colfax, you would think there would not even be one case of sexual assault in a year.

“That’s six sexual assaults in the last year of people under the age of 16. That’s something the public needs to know. This is a serious trend for this community. We are well above the national average,” Police Chief Gehring said.

“If I were the parent of a young girl, I would be worried about statistics like that … education is the key to preventing sexual assaults,” he said.

The perpetrators have all been identified in the sexual assault cases.

“Of the sexual assaults we were able to bring each case to a conclusion. None of them went unsolved. None of them remained a mystery,” Police Chief Gehring noted.

“Many local departments, both large and small, have seen a decline in serious crime. Colfax, for the first time, has seen a huge increase in serious crime,” he said.

In addition to sexual assault, other serious crime also is increasing in the village by 300 percent, 400 percent, or 500 percent: domestic battery; fraud; gas skips; retail theft; Internet and social-networking fraud; trespassing.

Economy

Police Chief Gehring said he directly attributes some of the crime — such as domestic battery, fraud, retail theft and the gas skips — to the bad economy.

“Some of this is a direct result of the economy … (but) when you look at sexual assaults, domestic battery and fraud, those are not police-preventable crimes, so to speak. Increased patrol on the street will not make a difference. There are plenty of cases where more officers on the street would help, but not for sexual assault, domestic battery and fraud. Those kinds of crimes go on behind closed doors, and they are difficult to detect and prevent at the time they are happening,” Police Chief Gehring said.

Trespassing also is on the increase.

“We have had a huge increase in trespassing complaints. I don’t know where that’s coming from. We’re not just talking about walking across someone’s yard. We’re talking about people in a garage or someone going through their cars. We’ve had success with neighbors watching out and bringing it to our attention or neighbors hollering at people and scaring them away,” Police Chief Gehring said.

Day trips

A certain proportion of the retail theft is perpetrated by people who do not live in Colfax.

“They’ll take a day and come from Eau Claire and go on a day trip. They will steal something from each little establishment they come across. That’s how they make their livelihood, stealing from different places,” Police Chief Gehring said.

Gas skips — in which people drive off without paying for their gasoline — are not necessarily people from Colfax, either, but “they are repeat customers. If they don’t have a history of not paying for gas here, they probably do in another town,” he said.

“We’ve had our share of thefts of scrap metal, too. (The Colfax Municipal Building Restoration Group) has had aluminum cans stolen from their can drop. Copper for plumbing has been stolen. That kind of thing,” Police Chief Gehring said.

The Colfax Health Mart also was the target of an attempted break-in not long ago, but the burglars were not successful, he said.

Statistics

“When I started adding up the statistics, it was jaw-dropping, even for me, because I’ve done this my whole life, and I’ve seen cyclical patterns. I’ve seen the ups and the downs, but nothing like this. For a while, the sexual assaults were one a month,” Police Chief Gehring said.

Serious crimes “are time-consuming cases. When you have a small police department like we do, everyone gets spread thin. It’s hard to do preventive activities when we are busy doing the after-the-fact reports and prosecution activities,” he said.

Once a month, Police Chief Gehring takes part in an investigators’ meeting at the Dunn County Sheriff’s Department that includes a variety of law enforcement and other agencies: probation and parole, police departments, human services, FBI, state patrol.

“We do an information exchange to help us stay on top of what’s going on,” he said.

“Since I’ve been here (in Colfax), we’ve been average. In the last 13 years, we have been at the average. This is the first year that (crime) has ballooned,” Police Chief Gehring said.

Even though Colfax is a small town and has long been known as “The Friendliest Little Town in Wisconsin,” Police Chief Gehring says it is a good idea for people to lock their car doors, garage doors and house doors.

And if you see something out of the ordinary — or are the victim of a crime — call the police department.

Establishing a pattern of crimes, such as those occurring at a certain time of the day or in a certain area of the village, often helps law enforcement to solve the crime, Police Chief Gehring said.