Carbondale's community connector

Recent assaults prompt safety discussion

Locations: News Published

By John Colson

Sopris Sun Staff Writer

Carbondale’s elected leaders on Tuesday continued an ongoing discussion about installing lights along town streets, trails and paths that historically have been dark sections, out of a concern for public safety stemming from recent nighttime attempted sexual assaults and other problems.

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Discussions about public safety have taken on added urgency following reports by women of attempted sexual assault in recent weeks, and Trustee Ben Bohmfalk announced at the trustee meeting that the town’s Bike/Pedestrians/Trails Commission recently talked about the need to provide better lighting on trails and streets, particularly along the Rio Grande Trail.

“That’s a pretty obvious dark spot,” Bohmfalk said, though he acknowledged that recent assaults had taken place elsewhere.

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Caution was advised, however, by Trustee Frosty Merriott, who noted that the town has long prided itself on having a starry sky above at night, with little interference from the lights of town.

“I do know that we are throwing off a lot more light into the night sky than we used to,” Merriott said, adding that “there’s a balance there that we need to be aware of.”

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And Police Chief Gene Schilling, while acknowledging that recent attacks are cause for concern, stressed that Carbondale is not a community plagued by violent crime.

Citing national statistics about violent crime that he has researched recently, he said, Basalt and Carbondale fall at the lower end of cities and towns in terms of such crimes.

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According to statistics kept by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Schilling said, where a value of 1 is “the best ranking,” meaning the lowest incidence of violent crime, Carbondale was ranked 24th and Basalt was ranked 21st, while Glenwood Springs and Aspen were “in the mid-sixties.”

Plus, Schilling said, a review of local crime reports indicated that, between Jan. 1, 2014 and now, the town has experienced only two assaults by “unknown suspects,” along with one that began as a Facebook friendship and later turned into an assault that remains unsolved.

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Schilling took the statistics to mean, generally speaking, “We’re still doing pretty good” in terms of the relative crime rate here as opposed to larger communities.

“But we can always try and improve safety, with lighting or whatever,” Schilling agreed.

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Trustee Katrina Byars said more lights are needed to provide safe passage particularly for women walking along the town’s trails and streets at night, calling the dark areas of town “a very immediate and alarming” problem for lone pedestrians.

“I really want to have a public safety plan,” she said, asking that it be put on a future agenda for discussion and action.

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Acting Mayor Dan Richardson, while agreeing a discussion may be warranted, said he was not meaning to imply that the community is unsafe for women to walk around in.

“It’s not to say, ‘oh, my gosh, the sky is falling,’” he said of the town’s security standing.

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At the end of the discussion, it was agreed that it should be placed on a future agenda, and that any such talk should be bolstered by statistical analyses of the level of danger posed by dark streets and trails.

In other action the trustees:

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• Adopted a “code of conduct” to govern trustee behavior at meetings;

• Approved special-event liquor licenses for the Festival Las Americas (scheduled for Aug. 28 in Sopris Park); an Aug. 21 fundraiser for Alliance America, an environmental group, at the Launch Pad; and the 5Point Film Festival, scheduled for Sept. 15 at the Third Street Center;

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• Approved an expansion of the Wine Time liquor store on Highway 133;

• Adopted some amendments to the town’s marijuana business regulations;

• Approved an affordable housing mitigation plan for a development project at Cooper Place;

• Approved a development improvements agreement concerning relocation of a town ditch as it passes through True Nature Healing Arts on Third Street;

• Approved a relocation of the Sweet Leaf Pioneer marijuana shop, which is moving from the Buggy Circle area to a white house located just west of the 7/Eleven Store on Main Street;

• Approved a “modification of premises” for the SP manufacturing retail and medical marijuana business.

Published in The Sopris Sun on August 11, 2016.