Polis backs public safety package amid scrutiny from Republicans and police groups

Governor Jared Polis is backing a package of bills that will tackle a range of public safety issues through early intervention strategies and support for mental health programs aimed at making Colorado communities safer.

The package, which aims to strengthen crime prevention measures at the community level, includes support for co-response models, addressing shortages of public safety workers, grants to organizations to address domestic violence and investments in behavioral health programs, the governor said. It also includes more funding for the Colorado Bureau of Investigation to investigate serious crimes and hold criminals accountable, he said.

“It’s about providing support for community-based approaches to fighting crime, improving public safety, strengthening the public safety workforce, and addressing the root causes of crime to stop crime from happening, before it happens. ‘It doesn’t happen,’ Governor Jared Polis said in an interview. with the Colorado sun.

Crime prevention has not been a top priority for Polis, who took office in 2019, but in an election year where Republicans have made it a central line of attack on Democrats and their political agenda, it is where his focus shifted.

“This is in no way a partisan issue. It’s just a response to elected officials, to a national increase in crime,” Polis said. “So we are not the only ones having these discussions. We know Colorado can and must do even better. It’s certainly on the minds of our constituents — people want to be safer in our state.

Details on the governor’s proposals come as a consortium of law enforcement groups released a statement criticizing the package while strongly criticizing recent legislation.

“We ask elected officials, such as yourself and state legislators, to recognize how recent legislative and policy changes have directly contributed to rising crime rates and difficulties in recruiting and retaining officers” , reads the letter signed by the leaders of the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police, Colorado County Sheriffs and Fraternal Order of Colorado Police.

“The General Assembly has passed several bills, which you have signed into law, that make crime prevention more difficult and prioritize offenders over victims and public safety.”

Some law enforcement officials have backed the governor’s plans, including Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons and Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle, who are both scheduled to attend Thursday’s press conference to unveil the initiatives.

The package calls for more than $113 million to be invested in public safety efforts.

  • $16.6 million will be invested in mental health services and efforts to train and recruit a diverse group of law enforcement officers
  • $35.9 million will fund initiatives to make streets safer, including lighting upgrades, increased community monitoring and grants to schools to expand mental health resources aimed at keeping students safe and staff
  • $6 million will go to gender-based violence services amid security concerns heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic
  • $47.9 million will go towards behavioral health services, including early intervention programs aimed at preventing at-risk individuals from becoming involved in the criminal justice system, increasing bed capacity at the Institute of Colorado Mental Health in Fort Logan and strengthen the state’s behavioral health workforce by providing scholarships, offsetting loans, and leveraging bonus payments in underserved communities
  • $7.1 million for recidivism initiatives that aim to improve the ability of formerly incarcerated individuals to re-enter the labor market, improve outcomes for youth upon release, and foster humane, goal-oriented settlements

The bill does not attempt to resuscitate the criminal justice reforms proposed under Senate Bill 273 from the last legislative session, which sought to limit arrests for low-level criminal offenses, or reduce the cash bail for those charged with committing low-level, non-violent crimes.

Polis said the cash bail reduction was a local issue, calling personal recognizance bonds “the jurisdiction of the local court system.”

As recently as June, however, Democratic lawmakers tried unsuccessfully to reduce cash bail at the state level. A bill that died in the House Finance Committee also sought to prohibit courts from issuing a monetary bond for municipal offenses, misdemeanors and certain criminal offenses, including for drugs, trespassing and non-violent burglaries.

Public Safety Director Stan Hilkey said the package focused more on “programmatic successes” than legislative public policy issues, although it is possible that those reforms will be addressed later this year.

It also marks an opportunity to move on from failed practices of the past, he said.

“We’re not interested in mass incarceration, it didn’t work. We are interested in resolving issues,” Hilkey said.

Part of the package aims to keep people out of the criminal justice system, through co-respondent models, violence interruption programs and trauma screenings for children, the 17th Judicial District attorney said. , Brian Mason.

“The mental health crisis in this county is having a disproportionate impact on the criminal justice system,” Mason said, citing an “incredibly high” number of incarcerated people who report having a mental health disorder.

Rudy Gonzales, executive director of the nonprofit Servicios de la Raza highlighted the need for community control over resources to help reduce crime and lower recidivism rates.

“We want the government to put gas in the tank, but drive to develop the resources we need not only for proactive work, but also for prevention and intervention to do this work, especially in the areas of behavioral health, substance abuse and procurement. the health of our people and the reduction of harm in our community,” Gonzalez said.

He hopes the resources provided as part of the package will help strengthen culturally appropriate services to meet not only ethnic and linguistic needs, but also those incarcerated and those living in homelessness and poverty.

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