Ruling Democrats at the legislature have seen the writing on the wall: Soft on crime doesn’t sell. Especially, in the midst of a statewide crime wave.
On Monday, a House committee killed a terribly misguided proposal to let more criminal suspects walk free. Senate Bill 273 was signature legislation — its chief author was Senate Judiciary Chair Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs — a cornerstone of the party’s vaunted effort to reinvent justice. And like the rest of that agenda, SB 273 fused the best intentions with the worst naïveté.
The bill, a slightly watered-down version of another measure that Lee pulled off the table earlier this session, would have prohibited courts from issuing monetary bail bonds for alleged offenses that rose to the level of even class 4, 5 or 6 felonies unless the court determined the defendant was a flight risk or threatened the safety of a member of the community. In other words, the arrestee would be released in most cases. Even more troubling, it would have barred police from arresting suspects in the first place, anywhere in the state, for traffic offenses, petty offenses, municipal offenses and all misdemeanors.
It cruised through Lee’s upper chamber but by the time it got to the House’s Finance Committee, some Democrats had gotten cold feet. They no doubt felt the push-back from wide-ranging stakeholders, including in their own districts. From law enforcement at every level; from victims’ rights groups; from local government; from everyday constituents. In the end, two Democrats — state Reps. Shannon Bird of Westminster and Matt Gray of Broomfield — commendably broke ranks with their caucus and voted with Republicans.
It wasn’t the first time this session that Democrats tanked one of their purported justice reforms in the face of broad opposition. In April, two high-profile Democratic state lawmakers withdrew a proposal to ease up on criminal misconduct by kids on K-12 campuses statewide. Among its provisions, Senate Bill 182 would have prevented students from being referred to police, ticketed, or arrested for misdemeanors, petty offenses, and municipal code violations at school. All such crimes would simply be referred to the principal. Police could have stepped in only where there was an imminent threat of serious bodily harm or a felony was suspected.
As we noted at the time, the bill was a recipe for bedlam.
Are our policy makers starting to get it? Coloradans of just about every political stripe as well as those of every race, economic status — you name it — are feeling the heat of a sustained crime wave. The Colorado Bureau of Investigation has recorded surges in virtually every crime category, notably auto theft, property crime and violent crime. Auto thefts statewide jumped an astounding 40 percent from a year earlier, while violent crime rose a disturbing 6.5 percent. Last year in Denver alone, homicides were up more than 50 percent over the previous year.
All the Democrats’ talk of second chances, “restorative justice” and “equity” sounds more than a little off key to a mom ’n’ pop shop proprietor who’s just been robbed. To a motorist carjacked at gunpoint. To a battered spouse whose ex has been released from jail — again. To the grieving mother of a teen lost to street violence.
Maybe the party that holds all the levers of power at the Capitol is coming to realize most people outside the Capitol simply would rather put the bad guys in jail. And would rather hold criminal suspects there, too, when they pose a substantial risk to the community.
Bird and Gray are to be commended for seeing the light and essentially infusing some reason into the debate over justice.
Meanwhile, some other lawmakers continue to play the race-and-class card — in an insult to Coloradans of every race and class. Particularly ridiculous was a statement by Rep. Jennifer Bacon, D-Denver, after SB 273’s defeat, as reported by our news affiliate Colorado Politics.
"I know the way this system shakes out is not the same for everybody," Bacon said. "And once again we find ourselves in the place where we need help from people to change this reality for us, but once again the decision for this outcome aren't in hands that look like ours.”
Never mind what that surmisal insinuates about two white Democrats who cast decisive votes in killing the bill. Consider instead the mindset that seems to regard any convict or suspect who happens to be a person of color as a potential victim, yet offers not a word of sympathy for the many, many crime victims who also happen to be people of color. And. who, tragically, are regarded as mere statistics.