A great deal of energy and political capital is spent at the Colorado Capitol on criminal justice reform, which is not a bad thing, except when it leaves victims out of the equation.
We have to remember that criminals aren’t where they are for praying too loudly in church. At the same time, justice must be an equal and fair measure, or the punishers are no better than the punished.
Crime and punishment each demand a response. They are not only moral and existential realities of our country, but in the year ahead they will be deeply political.
The Common Sense Institute released a grim report on Dec. 9 about Colorado’s state of public safety and the astronomical costs it inflicts. We lead the nation in the rate of increase in property crimes over the last decade, with Democrats in the governor’s office, while violent crime has risen 35%, though the increase nationally was just 3%.
And it’s picking up steam in recent years, the numbers in the study show: Colorado’s monthly crime rate through part of this year is 15% higher than it was in 2019. The crime rate is 28% higher than a decade ago, when Obama was in the White House and fellow Democrat John Hickenlooper was taking over for a former district attorney, Democrat Bill Ritter.
The report was co-authored by former Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey, a Democrat, and former southeast metro DA George Brauchler, a boldfaced name among Republicans and their future election plans.
When the fringe left shot off their mouths about defunding the police in 2020, they left a wide opening for Republicans to capitalize on the public’s worry about crime in next year’s midterm congressional elections and in top races in Colorado. U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert is counting on it every time she fires pistols in the air with her index fingers.
Crime is the break the GOP needs to rekindle the relationship with voters in the suburbs, driven off by Donald Trump.
Public safety is part of the Republicans’ 2022 one-two punch, along with inflation. Democrats better keep their gloves up.
Polis wouldn’t comment directly on the report, but he’s mindful — plenty mindful — of the public’s demand for protection. Fellow Democrats in the General Assembly would be fools to deny his budget request for more than $120 million for public safety, covering school safety, domestic violence, recidivism and expanding the workforce in public safety.
Democrats will have to sell their programs and policies to reduce the number people who are locked up as compassionate and responsible. It’s expensive to keep people locked up, expensive to the taxpayers and expensive to the families of those detained, sometimes for minor offenses.
Morrissey didn’t disagree, to a small extent, when I asked him about that. He said the one-size-fits-all approach takes the decisions out of the hands of prosecutors and judges, which results in criminals getting the opportunity to do more crime.
Deborah Richardson, the executive director of the ACLU of Colorado, said the report and politicos take a narrow and misleading view of the issue, ignoring societal problems such as housing, domestic violence, runaway opioid addiction and fewer after-school programs. In other words, the stuff Democrats are fighting for.
Richardson said the ACLU of Colorado applauds the Polis approach by tackling the root causes, rather than the shortcut of locking up more people.
“We face a fork in the road,” she said. “Colorado can continue down the path of investing in long-term solutions to crime prevention that will create healthier and more resilient communities and address decades of racial injustice, or risk going backwards with those who have staunchly opposed nearly every common-sense reform, regardless of the collateral damage to families, so long as it means investing money and power into the criminal legal system, rather than directly into our communities.”
The day after the report came out, the governor’s office gave Colorado Politics a point-by-point refutation, providing its own crunched numbers.
For instance, the report says average monthly crime rate in 2021 is 28% higher than 2011 and 15% higher than 2019.
“This is false,” the governor’s office countered. “They are inflating their numbers by more than 16%. The 2020 crime rate is up 9% from 2019 and 12% higher than 2011. … Also the 2021 data is very incomplete and not an accurate representation.”
The numbers came from the FBI Crime Data Explorer.
Polis’ people disputed other numbers on violent crime, prison population, recidivism, transparency and whether the number of rapes is going up or down. In other words, Polis won’t take bad news without putting it to the test, even while he’s asking for more money to fight the problem.
The people who get left out of all this debate about politics and statistics are the victims. Collectively, they should be used to it, but behind every number is a person who paid a price and maybe someone who was held responsible to some extent.
Morrissey gets it.
“How do you put a price tag for the increase we’re seeing in violent crimes, victims who are losing family members, women who are sexually assaulted, children who are being assaulted sexually and those types of things?” he said. “How do you put a number on that?”
Comments are open to Gazette subscribers only