Colorado has fallen victim to an out-of-control crime wave due in large part to misguided statewide laws that handcuff law enforcement and prosecutors, while ensuring criminals stay on our streets. As a career prosecutor and the elected district attorney for Colorado’s most populous judicial district, serving over 1 million Coloradans, I am incredibly concerned about the direction our state is going when it comes to crime.
Right now Colorado faces its highest rate of violent crime in 25 years. To get out from this historic crime tsunami, we need bold leadership to turn the tide.
I remember well the leadership lessons I learned in the United States Marine Corps and while serving in Afghanistan. Among them, a general must lead from the front. Unfortunately, our current attorney general, Phil Weiser, who calls himself the chief law enforcement officer for the state of Colorado, has failed to lead when it comes to public safety. Instead, Weiser has — strategically perhaps — sat quietly in the back.
A few examples:
This past year, in the face of an unprecedented rise in murders — statewide by 32% and 50% in Denver — our state’s legislature passed a bill to lower the penalties for murderers. I stood against this bill and testified before our legislature multiple times to warn them of its repercussions. Our attorney general was nowhere to be seen, and it passed without any input from our chief law enforcement officer.
Weiser remained silent again when the governor’s parole board granted early release to multiple convicted criminals who went on to commit more violent crimes, including alleged sex crimes against children. And at the height of the pandemic, when the state paid out more than $100 million in fraudulent unemployment claims, the attorney general once again remained missing in action.
In 2019, as district attorneys from across the state testified against a bill that lowered consequences related to killer drugs like fentanyl, meth, and heroin, Weiser was once again nowhere to be seen under the Golden Dome. The result? We now have open-air drug markets in Denver parks because users are no longer concerned about the consequences of getting caught. And since 2019 alone, 4,300 Coloradans have lost their lives to drug overdoses and we are facing a statewide fentanyl epidemic that has killed over 700 Coloradans this last year alone.
I have been warning legislators about the risks of these — and other — dangerous drugs for years. In fact, as far back as 2016 I advocated for a much-needed sentence enhancer for drug dealers whose products result in death. Not until after I held a press conference in early December with the DEA and our law enforcement partners about confiscating over 100,000 fentanyl-laced pills from our streets did Weiser seem to take notice. No doubt sensing the political winds change, Weiser is finally getting behind reasonable legislative changes that are needed to keep Coloradans safe.
When hate crimes were spiking in Colorado and we needed statewide leadership to reform and update our bias-motivated crime statutes, Weiser was again silent. Meanwhile, I partnered with legislators from both sides of the aisle to draft a bill to update bias-motivated crime statutes to hold offenders accountable and to ensure victims are treated with dignity and respect.
One of the most shameful statistics of Colorado’s criminal justice system is its fourth-worst ranking in the country when it comes to recidivism. It is a tragedy for the citizens of our state and a failing of government that 50% of all offenders released from prison end up back in prison within three years. Weiser, yet again, has proposed nothing meaningful to address this terrible trend.
Finally, when Weiser’s party rushed to pass legislation in 2020 that predictably led to good cops leaving the profession, making our families, businesses, and communities less safe, our current attorney general was not advocating to support law enforcement. Now, seeing the mess he helped create, he is rushing to back the blue in a transparent attempt to create an election-year talking point.
Even more troubling than Weiser’s silence over the last three years about public safety are the issues he has chosen to give his voice and support. He sued the federal government in Colorado’s name to support supervised injection sites in Philadelphia, where addicts would be given more drugs at state expense. And in Colorado he lent his name and title as attorney general to a bill that would have handcuffed police — instead of criminals — by preventing them from making arrests and guaranteeing that most anyone police did arrest would be sent right back onto the street. Despite chiefs of police and sheriffs being nearly universally opposed to this bill, Weiser, Colorado’s self-proclaimed “chief law enforcement officer,” publicly supported it.
Make no mistake, our crime wave will only get worse unless people in leadership roles are willing to stand up for public safety all the time, not just when their job is on the line and regardless of the political affiliation of our governor. The chief law enforcement officer of our state should not be hiding in the back while our state faces one of its biggest — and most troubling — battles of this decade.
Colorado needs an attorney general who is willing to lead from the front — and that is why today I am announcing my campaign for Colorado attorney general. I will not let politics get in the way of the strong leadership necessary to turn the tide on Colorado’s crime wave.
John Kellner is the district attorney for the 18th Judicial District and a Republican candidate for attorney general.