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Aurora City Council passes ordinance that requires jail time for dine-and-dash theft

The ordinance establishes a minimum penalty of three days in jail if an individual walks out of a restaurant without paying if the tab is $15 or more.
Posted at 10:00 PM, Mar 11, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-12 00:15:06-04

AURORA, Colo. — The Aurora City Council voted 7-3 on Monday to pass an ordinance that requires jail time for those who leave restaurants after meals without paying.

Often referred to as “dine and dash,” it is a form of theft that Aurora city leaders and restaurant owners say has greatly increased in recent years.

Pushed by Councilmembers Danielle Jurinsky and Dustin Zvonek, the ordinance establishes a minimum penalty of three days in jail if an individual walks out of a restaurant without paying if the tab is $15 or more. Jurinsky and Zvonek told Denver7 they hope this sends a message of support to Aurora’s small businesses.

“In Aurora, every single crime stat is ticking downwards, except for theft — except for retail theft, specifically,” Jurinsky said. “And the message that we hope to send to our business community is that we hear you, we’re listening, and we’re going to try everything we can until we get it right and until their businesses are thriving without fear of crime in the city.”

The vote by Aurora City Council was 7-3, with Councilmembers Crystal Murillo, Ruben Medina, and Alison Coombs opposing the measure.

Coombs objected to the lack of a projected cost analysis from city staff, which the council previously voted to require on new ordinances. She also argued that jail does not serve as an effective deterrent to crime and disproportionately impacts marginalized communities.

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It is not clear exactly how much dine-and-dash theft has risen in Aurora. Data from the Aurora Police Department was not immediately available, and city leaders told Denver7 they have heard from several restaurant owners who said they do not report many incidents out of frustration of a lack of consequences for those responsible.

The team at Seoul Korean BBQ and Hot Pot in Aurora affirmed this sentiment. Sally Lee, the restaurant group’s financial officer, said the restaurant now experiences dine and dash every week, significantly harming it financially. The expensive decision was made two months ago to install cameras with facial recognition software to serve as a deterrent.

“We’re losing so much money, actually. It’s not just a little money we’re talking about,” Lee said.

The issue has become so prevalent that the On Havana Street Business Improvement District has begun holding roundtable discussions with restaurant owners to track the problem and receive feedback. Chance Horiuchi, the district’s executive director, said many businesses have “expressed wanting to see consequences for dine-and-dash retail theft.”

Lee said the future of Seoul Korean BBQ and Hotpot — and of many other restaurants in Aurora — depends on the community getting a handle on theft. On top of increasing dine and dash, the restaurant is also dealing with stolen phones and tablets from its host stand and swiped delivery orders.

“It’s hurting a lot of people right now, and a lot of restaurants are closing down due to it,” Lee said.

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