Polis, Democrats rollout package of public safety bills to reduce crime

DENVER | Aurora state Sen. Janet Bucker joined Gov. Jared Polis and other legislators Thursday in presenting an ambitious new plan to improve public safety in the state.

The rollout is part of Polis’ commitment to making Colorado one of the 10 safest states in the nation over the next five years, and will devote $113 million to improving public safety over the next two years.

Currently Colorado ranks 23rd safest in the nation for violent crime and 29th for property crime compared to other states, according to the governor’s office.

“That’s not good enough for Colorado,” Polis said at a Thursday news conference on the steps of the Capitol introducing the rollout. “We deserve to be one of the safest places to live and raise a family and this package of bills will help get us there.”

The bills include efforts to improve retention of law enforcement, reduce recidivism and increase behavioral health resources. Polis stressed that the will be “data driven approach” and said that the state plans to create an online dashboard soon that will track crime in Colorado.

Buckner, D-Aurora, is one of the legislators introducing bills that are part of the package. She is currently cosponsoring Senate Bill 1 along with colleagues Naquetta Ricks, Leroy Garcia and Kerry Tipper, which would allow local governments to apply for grant money to make infrastructure upgrades in high-crime areas.

The legislation will create more co-responder programs in Colorado, as well as to devote more resources towards violence interrupter programs and programs deterring at-risk youth from entering the criminal justice system.

She credited Arapahoe County Sheriff Tyler Brown and Omar Montgomery, president of the Aurora NAACP, for their input in ensuring “this plan makes communities safer in a way that works for everyone.”

“Rising crime is not an easy topic to address,” she said. “That’s why we work to ensure these reforms will be fair, equitable and effective.”

State Sen. Chris Kolker (D-Centennial) said that he plans to introduce a bill to invest in school safety, allowing districts to apply for grants to improve safety and mental health investments.

“We know we must do more, and these measures will go a long way towards improving security at school and keeping our kids safe,” he said.

Along with several lawmakers Polis was also joined by community leaders and members of law enforcement, including the sheriffs of Summit and Boulder counties and 17th Judicial District Attorney Brian Mason.

Mason called the package a “historic” investment in community safety and mental health concerns in particular, which he said “disproportionately impacts the criminal justice system.”

The DA for Adams and Broomfield counties estimated that 37% of federal and state prison inmates report a mental health disorder, along with 44% of county jail inmates.

He specifically praised the package’s investment in law enforcement co-response, violence interruption, trauma screening for children and intervention in domestic violence, which he said has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This package will allow us to address mental health problems before people get into the criminal justice system and seek to keep them out of it altogether,” he said.

The proposals earned a chilly reception from the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police, County Sheriffs of Colorado and the Fraternal Order of Police’s Colorado State Lodge, who declined to endorse the package in an open letter to Polis published Thursday.

“At this time, our organizations do not have an official position of support on your public safety budget package in its entirety due to its failure to advance policy changes alongside ongoing budget proposals,” they wrote.

The letter went on to blame in certain crimes on recent changes, saying the “inability to arrest and hold offenders results in offenders,” and continuing that “confusing and rapidly changing on policing have caused to question what they can and cannot do to address a threat, protect victims and the community, and protect themselves in violent situations.”

Chris Amsler of the Aurora Police Department said on behalf of Vanessa Wilson that the chief “fully supports” the positions taken in the letter.

When asked whether Wilson thought increasing police department budgets could help drive down shootings specifically, Amsler said more funding would allow the department to attract and more officers by offering competitive wages, which would help Aurora address violent crime proactively. More funding could also be used to purchase new technology that would help the city prevent and suppress crime, he said.

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