GV plans to make misdemeanor drug possession a municipal violation to impose stiffer penalties

BY FREDA MIKLIN
GOVERNMENT REPORTER

Under current Colorado law, possession of four grams or less of Schedule I, II, III, IV or V controlled substances, including Heroin, Cocaine, LSD, Ecstasy, Codeine, Morphine, Oxycontin, PCP and Methamphetamine, is a misdemeanor crime punishable by up to 6 to 18 months in county jail and/or a fine of $500 to $5,000. However, according to the Colorado Legal Defense Group, “For simple possession convictions, courts typically grant probation and a $1,000 fine. And convictions are sealable from the defendant’s criminal record two years after the case closes.” In addition, “Defendants may be able to perform community service instead of paying a fine.” 

On April 18, Greenwood Village City Council decided unanimously to make those drug crimes municipal offenses. They also plan to make two other state misdemeanor crimes municipal offenses: 1) Aggravated Motor Vehicle Theft of a vehicle worth $2,000 or less and 2) First Degree Criminal Trespass of a vehicle with the intent to commit a crime therein.

Why? Because the GV City Council wants to increase accountability for misdemeanor offenses committed in its jurisdiction in the hope of stemming what it sees as the tide of rising crime. 

In GV, there is a public hearing for new city ordinances when they are heard on first reading. As of this writing, the new ordinance making these offenses municipal crimes is tentatively expected to be held at the city council meeting on May 2, however that may change. To confirm when it will be on the council’s agenda, go to:  https://greenwoodvillage.com/2390/Agendas-Minutes-Webcasts. Agendas for all GV city council and board and commission meetings are contained in the drop-down menus on the right side of the screen. The city council meets on the first non-holiday Monday of every month and sometimes on the third Monday of the month, as well. Its agenda is finalized on the Thursday prior to the meeting.

At the council’s April 18 study session, Assistant City Attorney/Municipal Prosecutor Shannon Chambers-Nelson told GV councilmembers that in the 18th Judicial District, where state crimes charged in GV are tried, prosecutors are “sometimes scared to take (these misdemeanor) cases to trial, whereas that’s not necessarily an issue we have in the municipal court… I’m not scared to try these things.” If these misdemeanor crimes were tried in GV Municipal Court, the city’s municipal judge could sentence those convicted to up to six months in the Arapahoe County Jail and/or levy a fine of up to $2,650. Chambers-Nelson told The Villager that she would expect to see those sorts of sentences issued for conviction of these misdemeanors in GV Municipal Court. 

Earlier in that city council study session, GV Police Chief Dustin Varney presented statewide crime statistics from a December 2021 report issued by the Common Sense Institute (CSI), whose website describes it as a non-partisan research organization dedicated to the protection and promotion of Colorado’s economy. Chief Varney shared that the report said, in part, “Colorado has the highest increase in its property crime rate 2011-2020 among all the states,” Colorado’s violent crime in 2020 was 35% higher than in 2011, nationally the rate grew 3%,” and “Colorado has the highest motor vehicle theft rate among all states in 2020.”

Chief Varney also presented GVPD crime data for the years 2020 and 2021 that showed that auto theft increased 66% from 128 to 212 incidents and overall theft increased 57% from 429 incidents to 675 incidents between 2020 and 2021. During the same period, the number of burglaries, which were not included in the chart prepared for the city council, decreased 26% from 114 in 2020 to 84 in 2021. In the category of robberies, there were nine in GV in 2020 and 13 in 2021. 

Chief Varney presented another chart that showed the number of crimes charged at specific GV hotels and motels in 2021. The highest incidence of any crime on the chart was 14 cases of motor vehicle theft at one motel over the course of the year, followed by 11 instances of general theft during the year at another. The hotel with the highest incidence of arrests for drugs had 13 instances during the year and another had 11. The remaining 12 hotels and motels listed averaged 2.3 drug arrests during 2021. All the hotels and motels with the highest instances of crimes on the chart were within the general vicinity of Arapahoe Road and Dayton Street.

A slide Chief Varney shared that contained additional information from the CSI report said, “Resulting from multiple reforms, trends across bond policies, parole rates, incarceration levels, data could suggest the system is moving away from accountability.” 

While all crime is serious, it is important to distinguish between different types. Robbery occurs when someone takes property from another person by force or threat of force. Burglary is the act of entering a building illegally with the intent to commit a crime, often theft, but it is still burglary if nothing is actually stolen. 

Theft occurs when someone takes something of value that belongs to another without the use of force or violence. In GV, the type of theft seen most frequently is shoplifting, which is much too common in the large retail stores in the area of Arapahoe Road and Dayton Street. According to another chart presented by Chief Varney, in 2021, there were 142 “criminal instances” at Home Depot on Arapahoe Road. The same chart shows approximately 20 “criminal instances” over the year at Lowe’s Home Improvement on Peakview Avenue, as well as 20 “criminal instances” at Target on Clinton Street, compared to approximately 23 total “criminal instances” at all the stores in Belleview Square at Belleview Avenue and Yosemite Street combined, and approximately 36 total “criminal instances” at all the stores in the Cherry Hills Marketplace at Orchard Road and University Blvd combined.

Council Member Donna Johnston asked Chief Varney about the total number of arrests for drug use in GV, which Chief Varney said was not part of the presentation, although, focusing on theft, he said, “The root cause of much of this is drug use.” He added that Home Depot loses between $500,000 and $1 million annually from that one location due to theft.

Chief Varney described some of the procedures GVPD uses to keep crime from escalating in the city. His department is data driven, deploying resources to and maintaining communications with those areas where crime occurs most frequently. 

After looking at all the data, Council Member Dave Bullock concluded, “We don’t like to see any type of crime…but we should take comfort in the fact that our (residential) neighborhoods are really quite safe.” 

fmiklin.villager@gmail.com