Aurora and Colorado have two serious quandaries: crime — and politicized hysteria about crime.
Like much of the nation, and almost every large urban area in the country, the incidence of violence, gun violence and other crimes has been on a steady climb. Some crimes, like shootings, have boiled over into what have become almost daily events in Aurora and across the Denver area.
Just as bad as the reports that violence — and especially gun violence — is on a sustained rise is the news that there is no easy or fast remedy to the problem.
Anyone who tells you differently is either uninformed or dishonest.
Among those looking to leverage a public crisis for political gain is former Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler.
Since being term limited out of his 18th Judicial District office at the beginning of last year, after eight years on the job, Brauchler has become a Republican activist, wielding a regular spot on a local right-wing radio talk show and in the Denver Post to promote a political party that has lost huge partisan ground locally and across the state over the past decade.
He frequently uses his media spots to point out that crime and gun violence are a critical problem in Colorado and falsely assign blame to Democrats and their policies.
Savvy residents and voters should dismiss Brauchler’s rants for the political nonsense they are.
He touts a December “study” he and former Denver DA Mitch Morrissey collaborated on for the right-leaning Common Sense Institute that fails to tie evolving policies focusing on sentencing and bail reform with spikes in all kinds of crime.
While no one disagrees that a rise in crime is a serious problem, real experts point to numerous reasons why different kinds of crime have increased here, across the state and across the nation — including states that have not begun meaningful sentencing or bail reform.
Republican lock-hold states such as South Dakota, Alaska, Tennessee, Arizona and Missouri have consistently recorded top per-capita crime rates. Texas and California, both suffering high incidents of all kinds of crime, have virtually the same rate of crime and probably the most contrasting criminal justice systems and philosophies.
In his treatises, Brauchler fails to point out that he was head of one of the largest judicial districts in the state as crime rates began to soar.
Brauchler’s not alone in his efforts to make addressing crime a partisan battle, he’s just at the front of the parade. Others are working to widen Colorado’s partisan schism at a time when unity is critical to moving the needle in the opposite direction.
The biggest mistake Brauchler and other Republicans make is dismissing the fact that the largest increase in all kinds of crimes has coincided with the pandemic. Even then, real experts caution about how little is known, too little to pin blanket causes.
But as more credible research and information becomes available, equally credible and consequential plans to address the crisis can be reviewed and implemented.
Last week, Gov. Jared Polis, regional and statewide Democrats, and Republicans announced plans to focus more than $100 million on regional and local programs addressing the spike in crime.
While it’s unclear what will come of a spending proposal that essentially could allow local communities to decide how best to address the problem, there are three consistent messages surfacing across the state:
• Proposed solutions must be data driven.
• Mental illness, including addiction, is an undeniable problem crossing all demographics and types of crime demanding action.
• While boosting police resources and targeted policing are critical, neither Aurora nor anywhere can “police their way out” of the crime wave, as Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson and others have pointed out.
Joining the call for “data-driven” analysis and proposals in Aurora are newly-elected council members Dustin Zvonek and Danielle Jurinsky. Both penned an essay for The Sentinel last week, accurately assessing that addressing crime must be a priority, and pointing out that both the problem and the solutions are complicated, must hinge on reliable data and will certainly be varied.
The key word here is “data.” Jurinsky just the week before took to the radio airwaves on a local right-wing talk show claiming that “if you live in Aurora, you’re not safe.” She went on a bizarre rant making wild and unproven accusations about police and others that undermined the credibility needed by officials to lead on this issue.
Data can’t come from politicized marketing efforts like Brauchler’s and GOP partisans. It has to come from trained, credible experts in Aurora, the state and the nation. If Aurora, or Colorado, can’t get clear answers to vital questions, that’s where resources need to go.
It’s unclear what effect nascent sentencing and bail reforms have had on crimes, and Colorado needs to find out how changes can impact recidivism and how other factors — such as housing costs, addiction, employment and mental illness — also affect repeat offenders.
That takes credible data and credible, dependable leaders managing it toward solutions.