May 12, 2022 - News

What Colorado lawmakers did to reduce crime in the 2022 session

Illustration of a downward arrow made out of crime-scene tape.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

From fentanyl and crime rates to mental health and substance abuse, public safety became the top issue in this year's 120-day legislative term.

Why it matters: A spike in criminal activity put pressure on Colorado lawmakers to act, particularly Democrats who backed legislation in recent years to reduce prison populations and the severity of certain criminal punishments.

Threat level: Whether lawmakers succeeded remains an unanswered question.

  • The result was "a real mixed bag" of policies that appear to contradict each other, said Christie Donner, executive director of the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition.

The most debated legislation of the session would increase penalties for possession of 1 to 4 grams of fentanyl and came down to the final hours, where it narrowly won approval with bipartisan opposition.

  • The final language would force a person to face a felony charge even if they didn't know the drugs in their possession contained trace amounts of fentanyl. The person would have to present evidence to the contrary and convince a jury to reduce the charge to a misdemeanor.
  • The compromise bill also ended the three-year limit on felony charges.

Between the lines: Both parties diverged from the start on how to address crime, with Democrats focused on providing more mental health services and Republicans working to toughen criminal penalties.

Details: A bipartisan bill backed by the governor would direct more than $30 million over two years to local law enforcement agencies for programs that target crime prevention and crisis intervention, as well as boost law enforcement recruitment, retention and officer diversity.

What they're saying: Sen. Pete Lee, judiciary committee chairperson, said the millions in new dollars put toward mental health and refining the state's behavioral health safety net will reduce crime in the long run. "We've made significant investments," he said.

The other side: Law enforcement organizations are less certain about the session's direction.

  • On fentanyl, they wanted to see any amount of possession result in felony charges.
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