Colorado is in the midst of a crime tsunami and is experiencing a tidal wave for both violent and property crime. Not only is Colorado’s crime rate far surpassing similar increases in other major cities, it is now notoriously No. 1 in the nation for car thefts. More cars are stolen per capita in Colorado than any other state in the country, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau.
Everywhere you look, car theft is on the rise. According to data provided by the Colorado Metropolitan Auto Theft Task Force (CMATT), which was formed in part to help combat the crime wave, car thefts are up 173% in the past three years. Believe it or not, that equates to an average of more than 100 cars stolen every day in Colorado.
In the Sloan’s Lake neighborhood near Denver, an up-and-coming hotspot, 117 cars were stolen in the first four months of 2022. Locations closer to Denver International Airport, more commonly targeted by car thieves, saw 105 cars stolen over the same time period.
In areas surrounding Denver, the stats aren’t any better. Car thefts in Aurora increased a staggering 239% from 2019-2021 according to the Aurora City Attorney’s Office and have continued to climb over the last year by roughly 26%, from 1,476 reported thefts to 1,857.
And when you look at the data compared to population across the region, Colorado Springs had 1.4 thefts per 1000 residents, Aurora’s theft rate was 4.7, and Denver was a whooping 5.4 thefts per person.
Being number one in the country for auto theft isn’t exactly the stat you want on a billboard for Colorado, but why does this problem exist and what can be done to address this glaring crime tsunami?
Even the craftiest of car thieves will tell you, the reason Colorado is so ripe for car theft is because the penalties for stealing a car don’t have any real repercussions if you’re caught. The head of CMATT, Commander Mike Greenwell, says auto thieves know they’re not going to be held accountable.
Until recently in Aurora, relatively few car thefts were ever prosecuted, and only about a third of criminal charges brought by police are currently handled in its municipal court. More often than not, alleged car thieves are released on personal recognizance bonds and disappear into the shadows never to return.
Another contributing factor is the staffing shortages across the board, limiting the amount of resources law enforcement can devote to fighting crime. In February of this year, Aurora was forced to pull officers from the CMATT, leading to the Aurora City Council approving a $8,000 retention bonus to keep more officers from leaving the force.
Fewer police on the street and limited prosecution and penalties for those arrested is only accelerating our state’s cringe-worthy stats when it comes to crime. Thankfully, one city councilman didn’t throw in the towel, and put forward a meaningful proposal that can serve as a model for this seismic sea wave of crime we’re facing.
Aurora City Councilmember Dustin Zvonek put forward an ordinance that would create a mandatory minimum sentence of 60 days for all car theft, punish repeat offenders with at least 120 days’ imprisonment, and impose a 10-day mandatory minimum sentence for defendants who fail to appear in court. Thankfully, this measure was recently approved by the city council.
Now, those who steal cars in Aurora and get caught can expect to face longer jail times and harsher penalties. Coloradans can only hope other cities will follow in Aurora’s footsteps and that when the state legislature reconvenes, it will also revisit penalties for crimes that it has lessened over the years.
Michael Fields is the President of Advance Colorado Institute.