Law enforcement leaders urge lawmakers to address rising crime across Colorado


COLORADO SPRINGS – Ahead of the start of Colorado’s legislative session beginning in Denver on Wednesday, Jan. 12, law enforcement leaders from the Pikes Peak Region are urging lawmakers to address rising crime rates across the state.

District Attorney for the Fourth Judicial District, Michael Allen, said in a press conference Monday, Jan. 10, that the Colorado legislature’s actions to reform bond and restructure sentences for lower level felonies and misdemeanors has let people out of jail or prison who pose a danger to the public.

“Too often we’re siding with getting people out of custody as opposed to protecting the public,” Allen said.

Allen cited increasing violent crime in Colorado (24%) and Colorado Springs (23.8%).

Crime statistics provided by the 4th Judicial District.

In 2021, the legislature made two major actions that will go into effect in the spring. One, Senate Bill 21-271, reduces sentences for misdemeanors–no matter the nature–to 364 days, a full year less than what was previously in place.

The other, House Bill 21-1280, restricts how long someone can be held in custody before a bond hearing.

Allen also takes issue with a bill Governor Jared Polis signed in 2019, which reduced drug possession charges from a felony to a misdemeanor, including fentanyl-related charges. Many public health experts say fentanyl use is fueling the current opioid crisis, causing overdose deaths and more.

“Of the policies that you saw over the last several years, we should note that especially in Colorado, a lot of those policies are bipartisan in nature and polices that we recognize probably shouldn’t…advance,” Senate President Leroy Garcia of Pueblo said on Monday, Jan. 10, in a press conference held on the steps of the State Capitol.

El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder noted that, since 2018, the average daily population in the jail is down from 1,800 to 1,300 inmates.

“We no longer have the ability to hold inmates in our jail that should be in our jail,” he said.

Still, he also acknowledges the mental health plays in the crime increase and admits incarceration is not the best form of rehabilitation in those cases.

“The less years that a violent offender spends in prison without really affective rehabilitation, which is few and far between in the prison system, means that person is going to be out of custody sooner and victimizing more people,” Allen said.

Elder reports 60% of inmates in the county’s jail have mental health issues. He estimates 20% of that population is dealing with serious mental illness.

Elder says given the lack of a more rigorous community-based system to treat mental health, the jail has had to step up and provided the necessary resources.

“It’s a revolving door in our community. They come into our facility, they get treated with maybe some of the best mental health treatment they’ve ever seen, because we’re forced to do that,” Elder said. “Then, when they’re done with that, they’re released back into the community to limited resources, to a limited ability to seek those same services, and they don’t go back and seek those services when they’re in the community. They just re-offend and come right back in.”

Elder says the state legislature has failed in the past to come up with substantial resources for mental health treatment across the state.

Garcia says that is a top priority for the 2022 session.

“We are investing $1 billion dollars in some of the deeply rooted problems to address the crime challenges: A lack of affordable housing and access to behavioral and mental health services so we can prevent crime from occurring and protect Coloradans from being victims in the first place,” Garcia said.

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