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Colorado Gov. Jared Polis is backing a $113 million package of public safety bills that he hopes will make the state one of the safest in the nation in terms of violence and property crime.
The group of bills, which he said was crafted with input from community organizations and law enforcement, focuses on crime mitigation and support services in an effort to prevent crime before it happens.
“It will build on the successful efforts of community policing models, increase access to mental health services and fund early intervention grants to prevent crime from happening in the first place. The most effective way to improve public safety is to prevent crime from occurring in the first place,” Polis said during a Thursday announcement on the steps of the Capitol, surrounded by legislators, law enforcement leaders and community organizers.
Polis highlighted three bills in particular that will be introduced.
One bill, sponsored by Democrats Sen. Janet Buckner and Rep. Alex Valdez, would provide community-based grants for local law enforcement to improve public safety. The funds would be used for strategies such as violence interruption programs and co-responder models.
“Essentially what this means is that rather than divert law enforcement resources to a situation that requires mental health assistance, it’s best to be able to utilize social services or mental health professionals to address the situation rather than divert resources from fighting crime,” Polis said.
Stan Hilkey, executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Safety, said he hopes that legislation will give communities large discretion over how to spend that money.
“We hope that the legislative process keeps it flexible enough to address the good ideas of our local entities,” he said.
A second bill would address targeted violence by funding training programs and increasing awareness of violence-motivated crimes. A third bill would focus on school safety with money for mental health resources and what Polis called “common sense” security measures.
Criticism from some law enforcement
There are other aspects to the package, including a Buckner-backed bill that will fund grants for cities to use for infrastructure improvements, such as lighting or access control, where crime is prevalent. The plan also includes money to strengthen an ever-shrinking law enforcement workforce, funds that could be used by local agencies for goals like retention or recruitment bonuses.
Polis and other speakers emphasized the data-driven and evidence-based nature of the public safety package, a strategy to address root causes of crime versus prosecution.
“There has been a lot of fear mongering about rising crime in Denver. And, yes, some crimes are rising and that’s not good. Many that speak to this rising crime, however, want to take us back to failed policies of the past, such as tough on crime and broken windows policing. That doesn’t work in our communities,” said Rudy Gonzales, the executive director of Servicios de La Raza.
“We have defunded for so many years the support net services and supportive services that really help to create our community safe. Thank you, governor, for this more thoughtful and humane approach,” he said.
Though Polis has support from law enforcement and political leaders across the state for the package and general direction of the strategy, some are critical of the approach.
“We ask that elected officials, such as yourself and state legislators, recognize how recent legislation and policy changes have directly contributed to rising crime rates and struggles to recruit and retain officers,” reads a letter to Polis sent Thursday by leaders from the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police, County Sheriffs of Colorado and Colorado Fraternal Order of Police.
“The General Assembly has passed several bills, which you have signed into law, that make crime prevention more difficult, and prioritize offenders over victims and public safety,” the letter continues.
Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons and Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle both attended the Thursday press conference in support.
Editor’s note: This story first appeared on Colorado Newsline, which is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.