Efforts to Limit Arrests for Low-Level Offenses Raises Ire of Law Officers
During the 2023 legislative session, Colorado lawmakers introduced about 600 bills, with Teller County officials fighting many of these legislative efforts tooth and nail.
Some of the controversial ones got passed, while others that failed may get reintroduced in the next session, a fact that is making local elected leaders quite nervous. As a result, the current break from significant legislative action at the state level, with big impacts for local communities and rural areas, could be short-lived.
One controversial bill introduced in the last session, which drew extreme negative attention from local government officials, including Teller County Sheriff Jason Mikesell, could make another possible rebound effort, under one possible scenario. This legislation, known as House Bill 23-1169, Limit Arrest for Low-Level Offenses, was brought to the House floor on Feb. 2 and assigned to the House Judiciary Committee. But, the bill was then indefinitely postponed on April 5 and eventually died. But some insiders fear this death could be a short-lived reality considering the makeup of the current state legislature.
At the same time, some lawmakers want to have a special session to deal with unresolved issues; one of these dealing with the bond eligibility for murder suspects.
What Would the Bill Have Done if Passed?
HB 23-1169 was intended to make it so police officers cannot arrest and detain people accused of low level crimes, instead they would only be able to issue the person accused of the crime a summons to show up to court for certain offenses.
“The bill prohibits a peace officer from arresting a person based solely on the alleged commission of a petty offense, except for petty theft, a drug petty offense, a class 2 traffic misdemeanor or comparable municipal offense, and all municipal offenses for which there is no comparable state misdemeanor offense, unless the location of the person is unknown and the issuance of an arrest warrant is necessary in order to subject the person to the jurisdiction of the court,” the bill’s summary states.
The bill did outline several exceptions where the proposed law would not limit law enforcement’s authority to arrest a person. For example, people could still be arrested if custodial arrest is statutorily required, if the offense is a victims’ rights act crime, or for driving under the influence/ability impaired or “a municipal offense with substantially similar elements.”
The Bill’s Sponsor Says Arrests for Low-Level Offenses Causes Substantial Harm
Rep. Jennifer Bacon (D-Denver) was the bill’s sole sponsor and she said that limiting arrests for certain low-level offenses could help a person avoid several issues surrounding going to jail and having to bond out.
“The amount of potential harm that can come from someone not only being physically arrested, but jailed for a day or so certainly outweighs some of the collateral damage,” Rep. Bacon told Denver 7. “If someone is jailed for trespassing for 24 hours, and they’re unhoused, they can lose their bed in a shelter. If a parent is jailed for 24 hours for a barking dog, they can lose their kids, let alone their job. We’re trying to really balance the crime and the consequences, if you will, and that’s really where this bill came from.”
Several Community Leaders and Organizations Speak Out Against the Bill
As soon as the bill hit the House floor, law enforcement agents, mayors and those who represent the retail industry showed strong opposition. Most thought that law enforcement needs to be able to make arrests in certain situations and limiting their power to do so could cause more crimes.
Among the various groups opposing the bill, the Colorado Municipal League which is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that represents the interests of 270 cities and towns in the state also issued a press release detailing how many different organizations think the passage of the bill could be detrimental to the state. “The success of businesses in our cities and towns is vital to the provision of essential services, a strong sense of community, and the economic vitality of CML’s 270 member municipalities,” said Kevin Bommer, Executive Director of the Colorado Municipal League.
During a previous, Teller County commissioners meeting, the entire board and the Teller County sheriff also spoke against the bill and feared the implications on rural communities. “I started a new program that I am going to run, and it’s called name the ‘idiot of the week,’” blasted Mikesell during the meeting. “And that brings up the House Bill 1169 which was presented by the ‘idiot of the week,’ which is (Rep. Jennifer) Bacon. Ms. Bacon is a Denver House member who decided to attempt to stop arrests for all misdemeanor criminal offenses. This would outlaw us from being able to arrest people for disorderly conduct. Disorderly conduct is usually two parties that are arguing or fighting. So, now they can fight in the middle of the street and all we can do is throw a summons at them because we can’t touch them.”
Teller County Commissioner Dan Williams agreed with the sheriff and he said that he feared that the new bill could force people in rural areas to take matters into their own hands if law enforcement can’t arrest people for crimes like trespassing or criminal mischief.
“What this really does is create victims in Colorado that don’t have any recourse for anything,” the sheriff said. “Now, people start taking the law into their own hands because they have no other choice. We are creating criminals out of good people. But, that seems to be the way right now.”
Now that the 2023 legislative session is over, the bill is dead in its tracks unless a similar one gets proposed in the future. But that possibility could occur in 2024, when the state legislature reconvenes.
The issue of law enforcement, and specifically releasing prisoners from jail, is a subject that clearly divides lawmakers from the two major parties.