Colorado governor wants state to become among safest in US

February 10, 2022 GMT

DENVER (AP) — Colorado Gov. Jared Polis announced a public safety plan he says will help make Colorado one of the top 10 safest states in the nation, emphasizing legislative and other measures that are focused on community-based crime prevention.

Polis said he’ll measure that goal based on where Colorado ranks in terms of violent and property crimes.

“We’re currently in the middle of the pack. That’s not good enough for Colorado,” he said at a Thursday press conference with Democratic lawmakers and state law enforcement officials.

Polis highlighted a package of bills already introduced and others to come during the 2022 legislative session that he said will cost nearly $113 million over the next two years.

Some of the policies lawmakers described would attempt to reduce hate crimes with more education and collaboration among law enforcement and community partners. Another measure aims to improve school security with threat-assessment training and an increase in mental health resources for students.

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Democrats emphasized the new efforts will be “data-driven,” based on programs already in place and will borrow from successful policies put in place elsewhere.

A bill sponsored by Sen. Janet Buckner would increase grant funds for communities to invest in co-responder policing models like a Denver program that sends mental health professionals on calls with law enforcement.

Brian Mason, the 17th Judicial District Attorney, praised the plan’s emphasis on resources for mental health, which he said disproportionately impacts the criminal justice system, and its focus on diversion and early intervention programs.

“When you can intercept low level offenders and can divert them out of the criminal justice system, their chances of going back in go exponentially down,” Mason said. “In my diversion program in Adams and Broomfield counties those who successfully complete diversion, 85% of them never return to the criminal justice system.”

Data from the Colorado Department of Public Safety show that violent crime rates have gone up over the last decade. But for auto theft, the increase has been more substantial, with an additional $200 million in car thefts reported in 2021 compared to pre-pandemic levels in 2019.

Ahead of the governor’s announcement, three of the largest law enforcement unions in the state sent a letter to their members, expressing frustration about the state’s law enforcement policies passed in recent years, following calls for nationwide reform and racial justice reckoning.

“While we realize that Governor Polis has noticed the soaring crime rate in our state, the desire to enact policy just months before an election does not go unnoticed by the voters,” said Republican House minority leader Hugh McKean.

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Previous policies passed by the Democratic-controlled legislature have softened penalties for crime and made it more difficult for law enforcement to do their job, he added.

The unions also rejected the governor’s invitation to join Thursday’s press conference, decrying previous policy as making crime prevention harder and prioritizing criminal offenders over public safety.

Over the last two years, Colorado lawmakers passed measures which ended qualified immunity for officers, increased body camera usage and transparency, banned chokeholds and set new requirements for colleagues to intervene in if a fellow officer uses inappropriate force.

The unions echoed similar sentiments across the U.S. by some Republicans and pro-police groups that recent policy reforms and decreases in police budgets have led to a dramatic rise in killings in Democratic-led cities.

The unions said the “rapidly changing legislative standards on policing” have challenged officers in the field “to question what they can and cannot do” — essentially blurring the lines between addressing a threat and worrying that their actions could be called into question.

Rudy Gonzalez, executive director at Servicios de La Raza, a group that provides social services to Hispanic communities, said “fear mongering” about rising crime rates are coming from those who “want to take us back to failed policies of the past” with “tough on crime” and “broken window policing” policies from the 1980s and 1990s.

Polis said law enforcement officials have expressed support for some of the introduced measures and that he understands why the law enforcement community would be “concerned” about supporting bills they haven’t seen details of yet.

“But I think everybody is broadly supportive of this direction,” he added.

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Nieberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues.