Just hours before the start of the 2022 legislative session at the Capitol on Wednesday, a suspect in an auto theft 9 miles away was being pursued on foot by Arvada police. As reported by The Gazette, the suspect, who had a criminal record, turned on officers and brandished a knife. He refused their orders to drop the weapon and was shot and killed.
It is a disturbingly common occurrence these days, with some of the usual elements: a prior offender attempting to steal a motor vehicle — turning violent. It was emblematic of an unprecedented crime wave that has been deluging Colorado.
Our state in fact ranks first in the nation for auto theft. We also have been awash in a wave of violence. A recent, groundbreaking study by Colorado’s Common Sense Institute found the monthly crime rate in Colorado was 15% higher in 2021 than two years earlier — and 28% higher than it was a decade ago.
The 2020 murder rate was 106% higher than in 2011. Alongside skyrocketing crime in Colorado is the fact that the number of criminals behind bars in our state has been plummeting at a similarly alarming rate. Since 2008, the state prison population has declined by 23% while the level of crime has increased by 47%.
As a result, both parties in the General Assembly are promising to address crime; failing to do so at this point would be political suicide.
Yet, delivering on that promise could be tricky for ruling Democrats. It is their party that ushered in the dubious “reforms” that law enforcement officials say is driving soaring crime.
And it is their party’s “justice reform” wing that continues to view many criminals as victims who must be spared jail time at all costs. Will the Democratic leadership be able to rein in such fringe politics in the Legislature? If not, they could face consequences from the public.
Rank-and-file Coloradans will be expecting swift and meaningful action. They will want the crime fight to be at the top of the legislative agenda. Their nerves are frayed, and they are tired of living in fear. They want to feel safe again; it is their right.
Aside from beating back further legislation by soft-on-crime lawmakers hoping to coddle criminals, a sensible, bipartisan coalition should move in the opposite direction and crack down on crime. It could start by repealing a couple of the Legislature’s more recent blunders.
First would be to repair the terrible damage done by 2019 legislation that, incredibly, downgraded possession of Schedule I and Schedule II controlled substances from a felony to a misdemeanor. That means possession of up to 4 grams of fentanyl — the headline-making opioid that has been killing Colorado youths in epidemic proportions — now warrants no more than a ticket from police. A mere 2 milligrams can kill you. The bill did the same for the likes of heroin, cocaine and a host of other illegal drugs, including violence-inducing meth.
Then, lawmakers should scrap last year’s legislation revoking indemnity for police conduct in the line of duty. It opened cops to personal liability and ruinous litigation. The bill is deemed responsible for an exodus from police forces in Colorado’s larger cities. And it is decimating police ranks at a time when we’ve never needed them more.
No doubt about it, fighting Colorado’s epic crime wave must top other priorities at the Capitol. Swift and decisive action is in order. Will the Democrats who control the Legislature step up to the plate?