THE EYES HAVE IT – Colorado’s “crime tsunami”

A new study from the Common Sense Institute reports that property and violent crimes are risitng faster in Colorado than nationally. They report violent crime jumping 10% last year in Colorado compared to 5% nationally, with property crime rising 8% while declining 8% nationally.

The first question to ask when analyzing such results is what is the source. The Common Sense Institute is a local think tank promoting free enterprise, economic vitality, individual opportunity, dynamic research, and is nonpartisan. These seem like common sense goals, reinforcing the institute’s name, far from any political extremes, providing credibility to their research and analysis.

Their research calculates the crime cost for Colorado at $27 billion last year. Former 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler describes it, “We are awash in a crime tsunami.” Brauchler and former Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrisey conducted the study. Both have extensive experience with the criminal justice system.

They also found that crime has been on the rise in Colorado for the past decade, with the murder rate up 106%, rape up 9%, assault up 40%, and vehicle theft up 135%, Colorado leading the nation in that last metric for 2020.

These numbers are unsurprising for those watching the local news where these crimes are frequently reported. For example, the Denver Post recently wrote, “13 teens shot in two weeks” in Aurora. This is the type of news heard in Chicago, but not in Denver. But unfortunately, times have changed for metro Denver.

One explanation is that defendants in felony cases are being released from Denver County Court without having to post bond. According to CBS Local, most Colorado judicial districts have a bond schedule based on the offense, but judges have discretion to set the bond. 

Court records show judges giving bonds of zero, $1, or $2 to those charged with violent crimes and long criminal histories. When criminals are caught and released, many reoffend as they are not in jail. The study found a 23% drop in Colorado prison population since 2008 while crime is up 47%. 

Criminal justice reform is a priority of the Colorado Attorney General, “To the extent we can, we should work to reduce the level of incarceration in Colorado.” If bad behavior is encouraged by not being punished, then it is logical to see such behavior increase. Incarcerated criminals won’t be committing crimes, those set free will be.

Mental illness and substance abuse are also to blame, but more for Denver’s increasing homeless problem than the overall rising rate of crime.

Governor Jared Polis’s office disputes the study findings, claiming the crime rate is only up 9% from 2019. It all depends on how one parses the numbers, comparing one time point to another, finding different percentages based on what’s compared to what. But both acknowledge that Colorado crime is up. 

It’s not only Colorado. By early December of this year, at least 12 major US cities broke annual homicide records in 2021, with three weeks yet to go in the year. 

As George Brauchler, one of the study authors noted, “The Legislature has focused on being offender-friendly vs. victim-friendly.” That may be the take home message regarding this disturbing Denver crime trend.