May 26, 2021 - News

Colorado Democrats push measure to end arrests for low-level, nonviolent criminal offenses

Illustration of a collage featuring police officers, a megaphone, and torn pieces of legal documents.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Colorado became the first state to approve a police accountability bill in the aftermath of George Floyd's death, and lawmakers are taking their efforts to the next level.

What's happening: The Democratic-led state legislature is advancing a handful of bills to close loopholes in current law and further limit use of force by police. One of the most significant measures is described as a measure to limit the jail population, but the bill sponsor said it's a direct response to the circumstances surrounding Floyd's arrest.

  • Under Senate Bill 273, law enforcement would issue a summons for low-level, nonviolent criminal offenses rather than make an arrest.
  • The measure, expected to get another hearing as early as today, is designed to avoid situations that escalate into violent confrontations with police.
  • It also creates a study group to look at situations in which mental health and social workers can respond to incidents instead of law enforcement.

What they're saying: Sen. Pete Lee (D-Colorado Springs) said the measure will transform the majority of interactions between police and residents.

  • The low-level offenses "are what can escalate if the mindset [among police] is subdue and incarcerate," he said.

The intrigue: A prior version of the measure faced vocal resistance and the bill's sponsors were forced to change course and remove felonies from those that would require a summons.

  • Still, the effort is drawing opposition. Denver public safety director Murphy Robinson said he supports policing reforms but worries about the impact those affected by the crime.
  • "I do think this bill has unintended consequences," he said.

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