Laramie County Seeing More Murder Cases
Laramie County District Attorney Jeremiah Sandburg says Laramie County recorded the most homicides in two decades in 2016 and is on a roughly equal pace again this year.
Sandburg says the county recorded seven murders in 2016, according to statistics from the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation. This year through mid-July another four had been recorded.
While seven murder cases may not sound like an especially high number, the county typically sees somewhere between one and three homicides in an average year.
The District Attorney says the seven recorded last year is probably the highest number since the early to mid-1980s when a war between rival motorcycle gangs may have caused the number to go higher than seven.
The recent upward trend started in 2015 when there were five homicides in the county. Sandburg says the increasing number of murder cases is part of an overall trend of a heavier caseload for his office.
The D.A. says through the end of June the overall caseload in his office was up by about 12 percent compared to last year, and felony cases are up by around 13 to 14 percent. He says the increasing workload is stretching the resources of his office to the limit.
Sandburg says a generally increasing population and substance abuse involving meth, heroin, and alcohol are probably contributing to the increase in Laramie County crime in general. Sandburg says it is rare, for example, for police to be called to a domestic violence situation where substance abuse is not involved.
He says he also thinks the legalization of marijuana in Colorado may be playing a role in the overall crime rate.
Sandburg says he asked the state for the money for 25 positions in 2016 but was given the money for only 19. Wyoming District Attorneys, unlike county attorney offices, are funded through the state rather than county government.
The state has been cutting back spending in recent years as it struggles to deal with decreasing revenues caused by a down turn in the energy industry. Sandburg says the combination of an increased workload and staff cuts means some criminal cases are falling through the cracks.
''There are some things that just don't get done" Sandburg says. He says his office tries to make violent crimes the top priority, especially when they involve children, the elderly, or other especially vulnerable people.
He says, for example, that if the choice is between handling a bicycle theft or a sexual assault, the choice will be made to handle the sexual assault case. He adds "I think most people would agree with that."
The graph below shows Laramie County murder cases over the last few years.