Senate Bill 21-062: Built on Bad Data, Amendments Desired
Updated: Apr 9, 2021
NOTE: An update to SB21-062 was created in the form of a letter on 4/9/2021.
Senate Bill (SB) 21-062 is a case of good intentions gone wrong. As Safer Boulder, we believe most of our supporters would agree jail population reform is needed; no one should spend more time in jail because they are poor, and jail should not serve as a substitute for mental health treatment facilities or drug rehab centers.
However, as we presented earlier this week (Senate Bill 21-062: A threat to public safety), SB21-062 is rushed, and too generic, to solve any problems without creating long-term public safety disasters. In light of the other rushed and generic bills around law enforcement reform that sped through state legislatures in 2020, several stakeholders are calling for amendments to make SB21-062 more palatable should it pass into law. Some of the potential amendments include:
No felony offenses should result in citations, all should be subject to arrest
No more than one Failure to Appear should be allowed before an arrest
Individuals with a high probability of repeat offending or known repeat offenders should be arrested
Offenders possessing a knife or other dangerous ordnance (brick, rock, brass knuckles, broken glass, etc) should be arrested (currently the only exemption is for possession of a firearm)
These amendments still fail to account for the protection of victims’ rights. It will be difficult, if not impossible, to resolve the conflict between criminal and victim rights within SB21-062. Furthermore, these amendments do not expand mental health or rehabilitation services in Colorado. If people are to be kept out of jail, there need to be other options to help them not reoffend.
ACLU Data Incomplete, Methods Flawed
The ACLU has been using incomplete data to support decarceration initiatives. In their article Decarceration and Crime during COVID-19, the ACLU compares Part 1 crime rates in major cities across the U.S. from March through May in 2019 vs. 2020 to suggest that decarceration does not correlate with an increase in crime. The vigor of their analysis is questionable as:
The study only covers about the first 1.5-2.5 months (mid-March through May) of the now 12 months of COVID restrictions.
The COVID restrictions on individual mobility were the most strict in March through May 2020. Fewer people were on the streets to be victimized and fewer homes were left unattended to be burgled. The ACLU acknowledges the potential impact of stay-at-home orders on several of the Part 1 crimes included in the study, but give no further analysis.
Crime always decreases in the colder months. The two year trend lines in the ACLU data reflect this trend of crime decreasing in the colder months (2018, 2019, and 2020) and peaking in the warmer months (2018 and 2019, 2020 not included). The ACLU noted this cycling, but provided no further discussion and they have not updated their study to include the summer months. Many of the decreases highlighted by the ACLU appear within the standard range of annual fluctuation. Statistical analyses to determine the significance of the decreases were not conducted.
The decreases in jail populations were calculated over two months: February 29, 2020 to April 30, 2020. However, the changes in jail population over the same two month period in 2018 and 2019 were not presented. Additionally, the overall change in each jail population over the two year period was not presented. It is possible the jail population changes presented may only slightly deviate from an overall trend or be similar to the normal fluctuations in jail populations during the colder months.
Only the results for Part 1 crimes were included and all Part 1 crimes were grouped together. As suggested in point 2, it is likely that several crimes covered under Part 1 went down significantly with restricted human interactions and movement. For example, sexual assault decreased to its lowest rate since 2014 (AP). However, motor vehicle theft increased 143% in Boulder in 2020 (BPD Crime Review). Grouping the crimes together provides an incomplete picture of the change in crime and of the severity of the criminal activity.
There are several issues with the methods used to develop this article. Perhaps the most glaring is the opportunity to introduce bias into the results due to the manual collection and parsing of the information.
These points are only a few of the issues with the ACLU article. We have not taken the time to try to reproduce the ACLU study, or to collect the same data from the primary sources listed in their methods spreadsheet.
For Colorado specifically, the ACLU only looked at Denver. According to their figures, the Denver jail population decreased 41.5% from March 1, 2020 to April 15, 2020 and crime increased about 12 percent. The yellow line, representing the decarceration and COVID period, shows the uptick in crime. Additionally, Denver has now reported the most homicides in 25 years (AP) and Bouder has seen crime increases up to 143% in 2020.
According to those present at the SB21-062 Judiciary Committee hearing in March, the ACLU continued to present these same and similar incomplete data to support SB21-062. At the hearing they only showed data through April 2020, and we can’t confirm how many or which cities were included. Attendees also noted that the data may have been averaged by county not by city. Several members of the Boulder community and state lobbyists have requested the data and methods supporting the ACLU’s Colorado-specific results, but we have not, as of the time of writing, seen this information.
SB21-062 is being supported by faulty conclusions drawn from incomplete data. SB21-062 is a threat to Colorado. Please speak up and send a message to your Colorado legislators today: Speak Out on SB21-062.
For press coverage of SB21-062, view the Safer Boulder News Feed here. The stories can be found under Legislation, Colorado.