A newly released report by the Department of Justice finds Colorado has the highest rate of violent crime victimizations among the 22 most populous states - more than twice the national average. And the state is number two in property crime victimizations.
The data was collected between 2017 and 2019, before COVID, but crime has only gotten worse since then.
What makes the report different from other crime statistics is that, for the first time, it includes a survey of people who say they were victims of crime but didn't report it to the police.
Compared to other states, Colorado has consistently ranked in the middle for violent crimes that are reported. But, when people who were victimized but didn't report to the police are included, we're number one.
As President of the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police, Estes Park Police Chief Dave Hayes didn't need the Department of Justice to tell him crime is up here, but even he was surprised Colorado outranks states like New York and Illinois when it comes to violent crime.
While the data is at least four years old, Hayes says state lawmakers have only weakened many criminal justice statutes since then, including de-criminalizing several drugs, "They are harmful, very addictive drugs that lead to other things."
Hayes says lawmakers have also reduced penalties for many crimes, which may dissuade victims from reporting. A bill this year would prevent arrests of anyone 12 and under except for murder. Another bill would prevent arrests for lower-level offenses including third-degree assault, fourth-degree arson and trespassing.
"So a person can give you a name and until that court date comes and goes, they can continue the behavior," says Hayes.
District attorneys are also concerned about the crime report.
"This data shows us it's a problem that under-reporting violent crime and property crime is a serious problem," says 18th Judicial District Attorney John Kellner.
He says the question state leaders should be asking is "why?"
"Why are people reluctant to report crimes to the police... to law enforcement?" asked Kellner.
Kellner says the state should be doing its own survey on an annual basis, "Let's look for what are trends within own state and then actually have data-driven solutions to them."
Both Kellner and Hayes acknowledge that a lack of trust in law enforcement has likely played into people's reluctance to report crime. Hayes says it has also discouraged people from becoming police officers and that too contributes to higher crime rates.
A March 2023 report from the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics titled "Criminal Victimization in the 22 Largest U.S. States, 2017–2019" noted that Colorado sits "Significantly higher than U.S. rate" in both violent and property crimes for the three years spanning 2017 to 2019.
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