A bill which seeks to force police to ticket people more and arrest them less as a means of lowering the state’s jail population is at the center of a statewide debate in Colorado, reports the Denver Post. While opponents say the bill will let dangerous crimes go virtually unpunished and exacerbate an existing pandemic crime spike, supporters say the bill would help sheriffs who for years have complained about jail overcrowding. Under the legislation, Colorado law enforcement officers could no longer arrest people who are suspected of committing a range of crimes, including traffic, municipal and nonviolent misdemeanor crimes, like theft of a low-value item or obstructing a peace officer. Instead, police would issue a court summons.
Although this bill would lead to fewer arrests, it does leave fairly broad discretion for officers. They can still arrest people suspected of crimes that fall under the state’s Crime Victim Rights Act, such as manslaughter, assault, child abuse and vehicular homicide, even when those crimes are classified as Class 5 or 6 felonies. The number of people in Colorado jails rose by about 800 percent between 1970 and 2017, disproportionate to overall population growth. Data show that more than half of people in Colorado jails at any one time have not yet been convicted, and that’s usually because they cannot afford to pay their way out. The bill would ban judges from requiring someone suspected of the aforementioned crimes from having to pay bond before being released pretrial.