DENVER — A bill working its way through the Colorado statehouse would prohibit law enforcement from arresting anyone suspected of committing most petty offenses, requiring a summons to appear in court be issued instead.
Petty offenses in Colorado are low-level crimes that are punishable by up to 10 days in county jail and fines of up to $300. They include such things as:
- Theft of property less than $50.
- Check fraud less than $50.
- Certain trespassing.
- Public indecency.
- Disorderly conduct.
- Owning a dangerous dog.
- Refusing to aid a police officer.
According to House Bill 23-1169, which only has one sponsor, Denver Democrat Rep. Jennifer Bacon, the change is needed because “Public safety is served by responding to low-level offenses with increased services rather than custodial arrest because non-prosecution of low-level offenses has been shown to reduce reoffending, or recidivism, for these populations.”
However, Weld County Sheriff Steve Reams said this bill appears to him to be a watered-down version of a bill from 2021 that would have prevented the arrest of anyone suspected of a traffic offense; petty offense; municipal offense; misdemeanor offense; a class 4, 5, or 6 felonies; or a level 3 or 4 drug felony, with a few exceptions.
That bill, Senate Bill 21-062 never made it out of appropriations, so HB 1169 has Reams wondering if it’s not just an end around to eventually reach the same conclusion as SB 062.
“Law enforcement doesn’t typically arrest on petty offenses unless it’s to get them the help they may need,” Reams said, adding sometimes if the party is strung out on drugs or homeless, they may be arrested to give them a place to sober up or get out of the elements. “Sometimes the best thing that can happen to a person is some time in jail. It’s a rare circumstance any crime under this bill you would arrest someone on already.”
Reams said the bill seems harmless on the outside but suspects it will lead to a much larger expansion in future sessions.
“So, they are saying, limit under these circumstances, but then they will broaden it further and begin to limit people going to jail for crimes that they actually should,” Reams said. “It goes after the same issue but from a different increment. I just don’t understand why the legislature is so anti-victim. There is a victim for every (crime), even if it’s a petty offense.”
The bill has been assigned to the House Judiciary Committee, but no date or time has yet been set.
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