Jail depopulation bill draws criticism

Local law enforcement says SB62 would help criminals, handcuff officers

Thelma Grimes
tgrimes@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 4/19/21

A bill aimed at depopulating local jails and making bail limits fair for lower-income citizens is drawing backlash from local law enforcement as it moves through the state Legislature. Senate Bill …

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Jail depopulation bill draws criticism

Local law enforcement says SB62 would help criminals, handcuff officers

Posted

A bill aimed at depopulating local jails and making bail limits fair for lower-income citizens is drawing backlash from local law enforcement as it moves through the state Legislature.

Senate Bill 21-062 (SB62) is being sponsored by Sen. Peter Lee, D-Colorado Springs, and Rep. Adrienne Benavidez, D-Adams County. According to the current text of SB62, the sponsors are aiming to decrease jail populations by limiting who police officers can place in custody.

According to the Colorado General Assembly website as of April 16, the last action taken on the bill occurred March 4, when it was referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

If passed into law in its current form, SB62 would prohibit police officers from arresting a person suspected of a traffic offense, petty offense, municipal offense, a misdemeanor offense, or class 4, 5 and 6 felonies. This includes no arrest for level 3 and 4 drug felonies.

Instead, officers wouold issue a citation to appear in court. If a suspect failed to appear in court multiple times, the bill states that after the third missed court date, a bench warrant could be issued. Missing the first two court dates would not carry a penalty under the bill.

Lee said the bill has been in the works for several years. Supporting the current text, Lee said the bill would reduce the number of arrests for nonviolent offenses. As the bill is debated by state lawmakers, Lee said amendments to clarify issues will be made.

“We are trying to reduce the times officers arrest people because that is when things really do escalate,” he said. “We should be reducing arrest numbers where there is no threat to public safety. When someone is arrested and placed in jail, with no money for bonds, they lose their jobs, they lose their livelihood, they lose a lot.”

Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock came out swinging against the bill from April 13 to April 15. Spurlock spoke against out at council and county meetings and during a live Facebook session. Spurlock said he does not believe SB62 would help depopulate jails, and allowing three missed court dates would not fix issues already facing the region.

“This bill is bad on so many levels,” Spurlock said. “It allows criminals to run freely in your community and inhibits my officers. It makes these cases even harder to prosecute. With each new law that is created based on emotion, accountability is taken away from criminals.”

Giving an example, Spurlock said the bill boils down to a criminal being able to steal a car, drive away, go steal another car and when stopped by police — instead of being arrested they would be given a citation.

Spurlock said not just residents should be concerned with the language in SB62, noting that if a criminal were to walk into a business in Castle Pines or Castle Rock and steal $500 in merchandise, the only thing police could do is give the accused a ticket to appear in court.

Lee said Spurlock is not reading the bill correctly because it does not take all authority away from officers, noting that in cases of crimes against other people, and in violent circumstances, a suspect could be arrested.

“(Officers) do have the ability to arrest under certain circumstances,” Lee said. “We have made exceptions. They are just misreading the bill. “

Agreeing with Spurlock, police chiefs and sheriffs across that state have come together to sign a letter against the measure. Some local officials singing the letter include: Castle Rock Police Chief Jack Cauley, Parker Police Chief James Tsurapas, Littleton Police Chief Doug Stephens, Englewood Police Chief John Collins, Lone Tree Police Chief Kirk Wilson, Arapahoe County Sheriff Tyler Brown, and Arapahoe Community College Police Chief Joseph Morris.

Besides local law enforcement, the Douglas County Commissioners, Castle Pines City Council and Parker Town Council also approved resolutions against the bill.

Jefferson County Sheriff Jeff Shrader originally tried to talk to bill sponsors to amend areas of concern to help him support it. Shrader said when communications broke down, he was forced to take a stance against the measure. Shrader said he can understand more reform on misdemeanor charges, but he believes the bill goes too far.

“This bill handcuffs police officers,” he said.

In 2020, Shrader said the population in local jails was decreased due to social distancing and state health guidelines. With decreased jail populations, Shrader and Spurlock pointed to an increase in crime rates, especially in car thefts. Statewide, car thefts jumped more than 70%. In local counties, police have reported increases of 50% or more.

Lee said there is no data to prove the decrease in jail populations is directly related to the increase in crime rates in 2020.

Cmdr. Chris Peters of the Parker Police Department participated in a live Facebook event with Spurlock on April 14, saying Parker is against SB62 for a variety of reasons, and public safety is at the top.

Peters said consequences must be in place for crimes and to make sure suspects appear in court to be held accountable. SB62 would not help officers, but would help criminals, he said.

Shrader said he agrees more should be done with bail reform, but SB62 focuses too much on jail reform and police authority and not enough on reforming bail limits on suspects.

In its current text, SB62 would limit how a judge can level bonds and how prosecutors handle the process.

While the Colorado District Attorneys Council has taken a neutral stance on the bill, in early testimony, several district attorneys spoke in favor of the measure, including Denver District Attorney Beth McCann. SB62 is also backed by the ACLU.

In talking to the Castle Pines City Council, state Sen. Jim Smallwood, R-Douglas County, called SB62 a mostly “partisan bill.” With little Republican support, Smallwood said he does not see the bill accomplishing anything. As the public becomes more familiar with the consequences of such a bill passing, Smallwood said he hopes it is amended or pulled from consideration altogether.

Anyone wishing to weigh in on SB62 can contact lawmakers at http://leg.colorado.gov/legislators, or sending an email to comments.ga@state.co.us.

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