Jimmy’s Denver Gazette Column | Will the General Assembly protect criminals?

Written by on March 12, 2021

It was a bright and sunny June morning. Running a little behind getting out of the house, I moved with purpose to my car…but it was nowhere to be found. My vehicle was stolen – subsumed into the reported 70.6% increase in motor vehicle theft cases in Aurora last year. In the broader Denver-Metro area, it was a 55% spike.

Three weeks later, police recovered it in Hudson. The theft was apparently meth-related. Several weeks after, my insurance company finally totaled the vehicle, yet three nights later, it was stolen from the autobody shop’s lot. Like a scene from “Breaking Bad,” the thieves burst my vehicle straight through the gate and it was gone. Again.

Soon after I leased a new vehicle, a vandal threw a rock at my new car’s window while I was inside an Aurora doughnut shop. I was out $270 in repairs. The suspect had purportedly been involved in a series of property-damage crimes in the area. At one point he was briefly in jail and then let free because of COVID-19 jail limits.

I am but one of countless victims of auto thefts, vandalism and other property crimes that have been skyrocketing. The crime sprees began before the pandemic and the mass protests last year but shot up evermore afterward.

That’s in addition to the rampant rise in violent crime discussed in Wednesday’s Gazette editorial. (If you haven’t read it yet, do yourself a favor and do so.)

You would think legislators would recognize the urgency and do more to address Colorado’s rise in crime. But rather than ascertaining ways to boost law enforcement resources and tools in socially responsible ways, the General Assembly seems primed to weaken them.

Yes, you read that right: Thanks to SB21-062, the state Senate and House are readying to restrict police officers’ ability to arrest perpetrators of most nonviolent crimes. On the surface, the legislation, which is sponsored by Sen. Pete Lee (D-El Paso) and Speaker Pro Tempore Adrienne Benavidez (D-Adams), appears to be a well-meaning criminal justice reform “concerning measures to reduce jail populations.” Unfortunately, it’s anything but.

As SB62 reads, “The bill prohibits a peace officer from arresting a person based solely on the alleged commission of a traffic offense; petty offense; municipal offense; misdemeanor offense; a class 4, 5, or 6 felony; or a level 3 or 4 drug felony unless” certain exceptions are met. Otherwise, officers may only issue a summons and complaint (a ticket).

As Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman put it in a Facebook post, “The bill prohibits law enforcement from arresting and holding in custody suspects involved in motor vehicle theft cases. They get a summons to appear in court and then are released. This policy was adopted by county sheriffs to limit the number of inmates held in their facilities during the pandemic but now the ACLU wants to make the policy permanent.”

In his testimony opposing SB62 last week, Coffman cited Commander Mike Greenwall, overseer of the Metropolitan Auto Theft Task Force made up of police from seven jurisdictions. “Our thieves quickly learned they were not going to jail,” Greenwall reportedly said. “That’s the biggest factor. We’d have them sitting on the side of the road in handcuffs and they’d tell us, ‘Take the cuffs off because you know I’m not going to jail.’” Criminals know what won’t happen, and they are taking advantage of it.

They are emboldened. They are brazen. And the crimes just keep coming.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise, for two reasons. First, if criminals don’t fear the possibility of arrest, especially amidst serious court system backlogs, logically they’ll keep committing crimes.

Second, research supports it: A 2018 paper in Policing: An International Journal on “[t]he consequences of restricting police arrest authority” finds that such policies result in “less deterrence and more crime.”

As the abstract summarizes, “The restrictions on police arrests significantly increased the crime rate…In sum, the present study provides empirical support for the hypothesis that restrictions on police arrest authority decrease deterrence and increase the crime rate.”

Strikingly, researchers found further that “the crime rate increased the longer the restrictions on police arrest authority were in effect.” This is critical: Given the year-long limitations on jail populations already put in place due to the pandemic, we ought to be concerned about what will happen if the legislature makes these arrest limitations permanent. The crime jump will only get worse. More people will suffer.

Let’s be clear: SB62 will neuter police officers’ ability to protect communities amidst a raging crime spree.

Things were already bad enough with SB217, the General Assembly’s poorly crafted elimination of qualified immunity for police officers. Now, it’ll only get worse.

When you walk outside and find your car missing, you might want to call your legislator. The police can no longer help you.

Click here to read the rest of Jimmy’s March 12 column at The Denver Gazette, a sister publication of The Washington Examiner.

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