Eight Colorado district attorneys have addressed the difficult dichotomy of our times – increasing crime driving a need for a robust criminal justice response just as there is growing understanding that our criminal justice system is, in fact, often unjust.
The DAs are approaching the issue with a commitment to transparency.
The data released Thursday by elected officials – many of whom ran on a platform of increased public access to data from their offices – will help guide the state as it attempts to address both social justice issues and rising crime. We hope every district attorney joins in these efforts to let public data guide their work, and the state should make funding this project a priority in the coming years as the grants that sustained this first effort expire.
For example, the data indicates that despite the increase in both violent crime and property crime, the number of cases being filed by district attorneys is down.
In other words, crimes are going unsolved.
A number of factors could be at play.
Police departments across the Denver metro area are understaffed: Denver is shy 100 officers, Aurora is short 47 officers and Colorado Springs police need about 64 new officers to be fully staffed.
Also, misdemeanor reform at the state level has meant more crimes that were felonies have been reduced to misdemeanors, including first-time auto theft of vehicles that are worth less than $2,000. Such reform could also be responsible for the drop in felony charges being brought by prosecutors in the eight district attorney offices that shared data on Thursday.
If that was driving the drop in filings, however, we would expect to see an increase in misdemeanor charges as felony charges decreased, and that is not reflected in the data. The number of filings for both have decreased.
These district attorneys should work hand in hand with state lawmakers and local elected officials who oversee police and sheriff’s departments to figure out what is driving the decrease in criminal charges even as crime increases.
Colorado has a crime problem.
An East High School student was shot last week outside of the school near the Carla Madison Recreation Center. Police still have not released information about what led to the shooting, but the teen is in the hospital. We pray he or she survives and has a full recovery.
In July and August, six shootings in Aurora and Denver left two people dead and another nine people injured.
Data about arrests, convictions, and recidivism is crucial to preventing further bloodshed in this state.
At the same time, some of the data shows that Black and Hispanic suspects are most likely to spend longer in jail awaiting trial or sentencing than white suspects.
District Attorney Alexis King, from the First Judicial District, pledged to get to the bottom of the disparity. Pre-trial release is critical in a country where everyone is innocent until proven guilty. We can and should detain suspects who are a danger to themselves or others, but by and large, most suspects in cases should be released pending conviction or acquittal.
District Attorney Gordan McLaughlin, from the Eighth Judicial District, said he would expand training about biases that could impact the treatment of suspects to everyone in his office, not just attorneys.
We applaud the efforts of these district attorneys to bring forward data that can drive real solutions to the problems in Colorado’s law enforcement and criminal justice system.