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'Crime Tsunami': New Study By Two Former District Attorneys Finds Colorado's Crime Rate Worse Than Other States

DENVER (CBS4)- A new study finds violent crimes and property crimes are rising faster in Colorado than nationally. Common Sense Institute, a non-partisan research organization, says violent crime jumped 10% in the state last year, compared to 5% nationally, and property crime increased 8%, while it dropped 8% nationally.

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The study puts the total cost of crime in Colorado at more than $27 billion in 2020.

"We are awash in a crime tsunami," says former 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler.

He and former Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrisey conducted the study that found crime has been on the rise in Colorado for the last 10 years. They say the murder rate is up 106%, rape up 9%, assault up 40%, and motor vehicle theft up 135%. Colorado, they say, had the highest motor vehicle theft rate in the country last year.

"I really think it's a wake-up call to the citizens of Colorado. They should be putting pressure on the policymakers of this state to sit down and to evaluate what's been going on over the last 10 years," says Morrissey.

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He says a law allowing two-time felons to receive $1, $2, or $0 dollar PR bonds and probation has contributed to the increase. A series of investigative reports by CBS4 found an increase in PR bonds for people charged not only with low-level crimes but violent felonies.

Morrissey says a lack of accountability is one reason we're seeing so much crime, "Now a 2, 3, 5-time convicted felon can get PR bond."

That means fewer people are behind bars. The prison population, the study found, is down 23% since 2008 while crime is up 47%.

"The trend that we continue to see is to try to diminish the consequences for criminal conduct," says Brauchler.

State Rep. Kerry Tipper sits on the House Judiciary Committee and challenged the former DAs to point to specific laws that have caused the crime rate to increase, "It's political hyperbole."

She says the causes are far more complex, "We have a problem that we're not going to jail our way out of."

Mental illness and substance abuse, she says, are driving factors, "It's a whole approach, what's working, what's isn't. Forget about the politics. Let's get the policy right."

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Brauchler says he agrees that more treatment is long overdue, "We've decided to empty the jails and prisons on the streets and malls and then look back say 'How can we do better on rehab?'"

The study found not only is Colorado's crime rate worse than most states, but that we have one of the highest recidivism rates in the country.

A spokesperson for Gov. Jared Polis responded with the following:

RE: A recent report from CIS entitled: "The Colorado Crime Wave: An Economic Analysis of Crime and the Need for Data Driven Solutions"

ARGUMENT: The average monthly crime rate in 2021 is 28% higher than 2011 and 15% higher than 2019 

RESPONSE: This is false, they are inflating their numbers by more than 16%. The 2020 crime rate is up 9% from 2019 and 12% higher than 2011. To view the data go to  this link and select Colorado.: https://crime-data-explorer.app.cloud.gov/pages/explorer/crime/arrest

*Also the 2021 data is very incomplete and not an accurate representation"

ARGUMENT: The 2021 crime rate is on pace to be the highest since 1994

RESPONSEThis is false - the crime rate since 1994 has seen a 39% reduction. With violent crime, we have seen a 17% reduction since 1994, and with property crime, we have seen a reduction of 41% since 1994.

Incarceration Levels: ARGUMENT: Between 2008 and 2021, the Colorado prison population declined by 23%  or by more than 8k inmates. During the same period the total number of annual crimes increased by 47% or by 131, 399 annual crimes. 

REPONSE: The report attempts to imply causation when there isn't any evidence to back up the claim.  The inmate population (prior to the pandemic) had remained pretty steady from 2008-2019.  In 2008 the inmate population was 22,887 in 2019 the inmate population was 20,223. During the pandemic in 2020-2021 the Department was not receiving the normal number of intakes and the court system was not maintaining a normal court schedule which resulted in a reduction in population.

ARGUMENT: The recidivism rate in Colorado ranks among the top 5 in the nation

REPONSE: The recidivism rate is often tracked differently by various states so it is not an apples-to-apples comparison. For example, some states like Virginia only track new crimes that return people to prison, whereas Colorado accounts for both new crime returns and technical parole returns in calculating recidivism. In fact, Colorado's recidivism rate has been declining for several years. This chart tracking recidivism rates is easily available on DOC's website.

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(credit: Governor's Office Of Colorado)

ARGUMENT: Policymakers must establish more transparent reporting and a public-facing dashboard that demonstrates how the current system is supporting communities, victims and individuals returning to society following incarceration

REPONSE: CDPS has several public facing dashboards that preview trends.  The irony is that this request is coming from two former District Attorneys when the Colorado District Attorneys Council is closed with their data and will not put it online for the public to see. 

ARGUMENT: Colorado violent crime rate in 2020 was 35% higher than 2011 nationally the rate grew on 3%

RESPONSE:  Violent crime increased 25% and up nationally 6% the governor is lasered focused on Colorado violent crime.The Governor has proposed large investments in public safety, including community grants that would allow funding for violence interrupter programs, as well funds for the evaluation and design of safer streets and neighborhoods. These community grant programs in our administration's public safety package are evidence-based and research shows that they are correlated with reduced violent crime and gun violence.

ARGUMENT: The rape rate was 9% higher with assault up 40% from 2011

REPONSE: This is false and misleading, this has actually gone down for the last three years, here are the rates: CBI data demonstrates that sexual assault has decreased over the last three years:

  • 2020 sexual assault rate was 62  per 100k.
  • 2019 sexual assault rate was 71 per 100k
  • 2018 sexual assailt  rate was 76 per 100k

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