Cumberland County is on pace to have roughly 500 more criminal cases entered into the courts in 2016 compared to the year prior.
However, the caseload jump appears to have more to do with increased enforcement by police rather than a large spike in criminal activity.
As of Dec. 5, Cumberland County was on track to have 5,014 criminal cases entered into the judicial system by the end of the year, according to an analysis of court records conducted by The Sentinel. For comparison, 4,516 criminal cases were filed in the county in 2015.
The increase is largely driven by cases involving DUIs and drug crimes, according to The Sentinel’s analysis.
Those two categories account for more than 70 percent of the increase, the analysis found.
However, the increase in drug cases is a result of more cases involving misdemeanor simple possession and a roughly 40 percent jump in possession of a small amount of marijuana.
Cases including the higher-level felony possession with intent to deliver are on track to be nearly 14 percent lower than last year, according to court records.
Sex-related crimes are projected to drop nearly 20 percent in 2016 and criminal cases involving property crimes will likely be down slightly from last year, according to The Sentinel analysis.
Crimes against a person — aggravated assault, simple assault, harassment and other charges — as a category are expected to go up about 9 percent this year, according to the analysis.
Much of that increase appears to be in lower level offenses like simple assault, harassment and resisting arrest.
Case filings involving the more serious aggravated assault are largely on pace with last year’s level of 62 cases.
“I haven’t seen a huge increase in violent robberies, violent sexual assaults, aggravated assaults, so that’s a positive in terms of safety,” Cumberland County District Attorney David Freed said. “However, I have felt the increase in the things that I think are related to our drug problem.”
Controlled substance DUI
One of those case types, and a major driver of the caseload increase, is controlled substance DUIs. These are cases in which the defendant is believed to have been under the influence of drugs, or a combination of drugs and alcohol, while they were driving.
In 2015, there were 315 cases involving controlled substance DUI charges.
As of Dec. 5, that number had already reached 476 and is projected to surpass 500 cases by the end of the year, according The Sentinel’s analysis.
Controlled substance DUIs alone account for nearly 40 percent of the total projected caseload increase.
“I think it’s too simple to say there’s just more people driving under the influence of drugs,” Freed said. “I think that’s true, in part. However, what’s gotten us to where we are is the increase in blood testing. … And with more drug recognition cops out there, they are better able to identify people who are under the influence of drugs.”
Freed said ability of the county’s forensics lab to test blood for controlled substances has been instrumental in identifying and prosecuting more drivers who are under the influence but had low or no levels of alcohol in their system when pulled over by police.
The increase in lab testing has been an eye-opening glimpse into drug use in the county, Freed said.
“Sort of the conventional wisdom was it’s not worth looking (for drugs) because most of them are not going to have drugs in their system,” Freed said. “I think the conventional wisdom was 100 percent wrong.”
The largest caseload increases are projected to come from Middlesex Township, with 113 expected additional cases, and Lower Allen Township, which is projected to see 80 cases more in 2016 than it did in 2015, according to The Sentinel analysis.
While Middlesex Township’s caseload tracks largely consistent with the county trends of larger increases in DUI and drug cases, a moderate increase in crimes against a person and a drop in property crime, Lower Allen Township does not.
Lower Allen Township is projected to have a moderate increase in DUI cases, roughly 15 percent, coupled with large increases in drug offenses and crimes against a person.
Felony drug possession with intent to deliver has already doubled from eight cases in 2015 to 20 as of Dec. 5.
Aggravated assaults have tripled from three total cases in 2015 to 10 as of Dec. 5, according to court records.
Property crimes, however, are tracking down in Lower Allen Township, according to the analysis.
Carlisle, which generally accounts for the largest number of criminal filings in the county, is on pace for a less than 1 percent increase, according to court records.
A nearly 46 percent increase in DUI filings in Carlisle will likely be offset by double digit decreases in drug crime, crimes against a person and property crime case filings, according to the analysis.
East Pennsboro Township is expected to end the year with the largest decrease in criminal filings with 54 fewer cases in 2016 than in 2015, according to the analysis.
While East Pennsboro Township is projected to see roughly 30 percent decreases in DUI and drug cases, crimes against a person are projected to be up by nearly 50 percent from 36 total cases in 2015 to 54 in 2016.