Voters will pick Denver's next district attorney in June 2024 primary

Candidates John Walsh and Leora Joseph sat down with Denver7 and outlined their plans to tackle violent crime, reduce drug use and increase police accountability.
Denver district attorney candidates John Walsh and Leora Joseph
Posted at 6:40 PM, Jun 14, 2024

DENVER — This year, voters will elect a new Denver district attorney for the first time in eight years.

Because no Republicans qualified for the ballot, the winner of the Democratic primary on June 25 will win November’s general election and serve as the city’s next DA.

Both candidates running in the Democratic primary said tackling violent crime is a top priority.

“[I] have been so concerned over the last four or five years as we've seen Denver struggle with some basic issues of community safety,” said John Walsh.

Walsh, who served as the U.S. Attorney for Colorado during the Obama administration, said he’d have a twofold approach.

“It turns out that it's a relatively small number of people who are actually pulling the triggers on guns and creating most of the harm,” said Walsh.

He said he would focus on getting those people off the streets and provide more opportunities for young people.

“So when school lets out at the end of the day, they've got things to go to and aren't at risk of being drawn into a culture where violence is a possibility,” said Walsh.

Leora Joseph serves as director of the Colorado Office of Civil and Forensic Mental Health and has worked in multiple district attorney offices.

“My top priority is, first of all, accountability, bringing back consequence,” said Joseph. "We can no longer ignore crime. That doesn't help uplift communities. It doesn't help uplift individuals. It doesn't make us safer as a city."

However, she said that doesn’t mean everyone should go to jail.

“What I bring is unique perspectives in the space of severe mental illness and drug addiction, offering real pathways to treatment to get people the help they need and off of the streets,” said Joseph.

Here from both candidates in the video below:

Voters will pick Denver's next district attorney in June 2024 primary

Both candidates said they’d work to hold police more accountable. Walsh said he’d work with the police department to update its policies and training.

“Police accountability is absolutely crucial to earning the trust of the entire community in the criminal justice system,” said Walsh.

Joseph said she’d hire a first-ever police accountability director.

“Someone really from the community who can come in and advise the D. when we have police shootings, when we have accusations, to give a different perspective,” said Joseph.

Neither is in favor of supervised injection sites, which allow people to use drugs under the supervision of medical experts. Joseph said they haven’t worked in other cities.

“The data I've seen in cities across the world, quite frankly, that have adopted safe injection sites like Vancouver, like Oregon, like Portugal and Amsterdam are all reversing course right now,” said Joseph. “These are places that piloted safe injection sites and they simply haven't worked. What those cities have seen instead is that those safe injection sites are not moving people into treatment and the cities are experiencing overdose deaths as well in large, large numbers. So, it's not curtailing the overdose problem.”

Walsh said more research is needed.

“What I would be open to is working to see if we could develop a way of getting further evidence to see whether or not a program like that could be implemented, that would save lives, would effectively get people into treatment, and would reduce the overall amount of addiction,” said Walsh. “If we could show those three things through a pilot program, I might be open, but we got to get more research. I'm not satisfied right now that the evidence is sufficient to experiment by authorizing safe injection sites.”

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While both have deep legal experience, they disagree over whose background would serve citizens better in the DA’s office.

“I'm the only one in the race that actually has worked in the district attorney's offices. My opponent's never worked in the DA's office,” said Joseph. “And I'm the only one in the race that has that high-level professional behavioral health experience.”

“I've spent about half my career in federal prosecution and including critically running a big office like the Denver DA's Office, the U.S. Attorney's Office. That's experience my opponent doesn't have,” said Walsh.

Walsh has received the endorsement of former Governor Bill Ritter, current Denver District Attorney Beth McCann, and former Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey. Joseph has been endorsed by Colorado House Speaker Julie McCluskie, Denver City Councilwoman Amanda Sawyer and the Denver Police Protective Association.

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