Colorado lawmaker proposes bill to limit arrests for low-level offenses

Legislation proposes limiting arrests for low-level offenses
Posted at 10:47 PM, Mar 06, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-07 00:47:10-05

DENVER — A bill making it's way through Colorado's state legislature has some law enforcement agencies worried, while those behind the legislation believe it's misunderstood.

House Bill 23-1169, in its current form, would prohibit a police officer from arresting someone "solely on the alleged commission of a petty offense," excluding petty theft, a drug petty offense, and a class 2 traffic misdemeanor.

The bill has already experienced a number of revisions, but some petty offenses that would not qualify for an arrest under the bill are trespassing, abandoning a motor vehicle and disorderly conduct.

"The amount of potential harm that can come from someone not only being physically arrested, but jailed for a day or so certainly outweighs some of the collateral damage," said Representative Jennifer Bacon, D-Denver, the prime sponsor of the bill. “If someone is jailed for trespassing for 24 hours, and they're unhoused, they can lose their bed in a shelter. If a parent is jailed for 24 hours for a barking dog, they can lose their kids, let alone their job. We're trying to really balance the crime and the consequences, if you will, and that's really where this bill came from.”

The text in the legislation reports low-level offenses are commonly connected to behavioral health, substance use and homelessness issues, which are exacerbated by jail time. The bill does not include misdemeanors.

“How can we balance public safety and petty offenses?" asked Bacon. “All it takes, unfortunately, is one law enforcement officer who doesn't care to de-escalate that will get somebody hurt. And what we are saying is, if you have to give them a ticket, then you do not have your option of putting your hands on them.”

Pueblo Police Chief Chris Noeller is against the legislation.

“What I can do is write this person a citation. I can't use any force to get them to move away from the property, because I can only use force in instances where an arrest can be made," explained Noeller. “I simply can just keep writing them tickets and hope that at some point, they get frustrated with getting tickets and they stop their behavior. That's really what the outcome of this bill will be.”

Offenses that still qualify for arrest are felonies, misdemeanors, any offenses related to domestic violence or victim's rights offenses, traffic offenses (including DUI and DWI), and failure to appear in court.

Noeller is worried the people of Pueblo would lose some sense of safety if the legislation becomes law.

“This bill, all it does is take away one more tool from us to be able to do our job effectively... What we are doing is continually lessening accountability for people's poor behaviors," said the police chief. “Do you think we're going to get people to cooperate and not commit these crimes when they know there's not a thing we can do? Beyond just issue them another ticket?"

The legislation does not limit a police officer's "authority to execute an arrest warrant."

The bill is scheduled for the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. Bacon said she is prepared to discuss the varying opinions on the legislation, and her main goal will be clarifying what she believes are misconceptions about the bill.

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