Grand County LEO’s bash bill that would limit police arrests
Grand County’s law enforcement leaders are concerned about a proposed state law that would alter when police could make arrests and for which crimes the court could issue monetary bonds.
Colorado lawmakers from the Front Range introduced the jail population management tool bill, SB21-062, in February. The bill seeks to codify some adjustments law enforcement made during the coronavirus pandemic, including relying more on court summons than actual arrests.
Grand County Sheriff Brett Schroetlin and 14th Judicial District Attorney Matt Karzen both fear passage of the legislation, saying it leaves many questions unanswered.
The bill would block police from arresting someone who’s committed petty offenses, traffic violations, municipal violations, misdemeanors or certain low-level felonies and drug crimes, unless other circumstances are met.
In addition, a judge would have to issue personal recognizance bonds for petty, municipal or misdemeanor violations, as well as for some low-level felonies and drug crimes, since monetary bonds wouldn’t be allowed unless the person was a flight risk.
As suggested by the bill’s title, the goal is to reduce jail populations and the amount of time people spend in jail while their cases are being adjudicated.
Proponents of the bill, like the American Civil Liberties Union, argue it would address the inherent unfairness of monetary bail, as well as preserve individuals’ civil rights and keep jail from being used a punishment before their cases have been heard.
Earlier in March, Schroetlin joined other sheriffs and law enforcement organizations to oppose the bill and testify to its potential consequences before state lawmakers, arguing these changes would not solve issues of civil rights.
Schroetlin said he doesn’t have a problem with trying to reducing jail populations, but he takes issue with the name of the bill because he said it focuses more on restricting when an officer can arrest someone.
“It has a very catchy title about reducing jail populations, which sounds really good, but what (will happen) is this will reduce the ability for officers to use the arrest tool when on the road,” Schroetlin said. “Law enforcement is about problem-solving. What works for one call, might not work for another.”
During the coronavirus pandemic, law enforcement officers have turned to summons more frequently as a way to lower the number of people coming in contact with each other at the jail. Schroetlin said that approach has been mostly successful with first-time offenders, but less so with repeat offenders who are taking advantage of the reduced consequences.
If the bill became law, Schroetlin worries it could waste time and resources by creating incentives to not show up in court and ignore officers.
“There are issues that come with repetitive behavior that could be worse because there’s no accountability within the courts or law enforcement (in this bill),” he said. “If a law enforcement officer tells you to do something and you choose to resist or obstruct the officer, there would be no ramifications for that.”
Karzen made similar comments, adding the legislation makes no mention of community safety and doesn’t seem to address victims.
To Karzen, the bill only discusses arrests and bonds while ignoring procedural questions — like when a restraining order would be put in place if no arrest is made. Karzen said lapses like this show the bill has not been well thought out.
“Not allowing police to make a custodial arrest (in certain cases) puts victims at higher risk, and I think the message to victims is this is not serious,” Karzen said.
Beyond the arrest restrictions, Karzen said a lack of acknowledgment of community safety causes him to be wary of the proposed bond changes.
In a letter to the editor, Karzen wrote that only addressing monetary bonds doesn’t make room for judges to consider the risk to the public. In expanding those thoughts, Karzen said the legislation as written doesn’t leave room for court discretion.
Karzen said the proposed limitations don’t come with any funding, and he suggested the state’s time would be better spent funding services, including quality supervision services.
“You can’t just say, ’Nobody ever goes to jail,’ and you can’t say, ’Everybody always goes to jail,’” Karzen said. “You have to have a balance. The solution is not to just empty the jails and put everyone back out on the streets. Then you’re just pretending victims don’t exist and crime doesn’t happen.”
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