PERSPECTIVE: The growing crime problem by John Suthers
I chose to spend a large portion of my career as a prosecutor on the local, state and federal level because of my strong belief that prosecution is an important public responsibility essential to good government. Protecting the safety of its citizens is the highest responsibility of government, and our criminal justice system cannot effectively perform that responsibility unless prosecutors competently review evidence, make principled charging decisions and zealously but fairly pursue convictions and just punishment for serious offenders. I feel so strongly about the importance of the prosecution function that I wrote a book about it in 2008 (“No Higher Calling, No Greater Responsibility,” Fulcrum Publishing). It’s my extensive experience as a prosecutor that causes me to be very concerned about developments in our nation and our state related to law enforcement in general and the role of the prosecutor in particular.
Our nation is in the midst of a violent crime wave. Our cities are seeing dramatic increases in all serious crimes, but especially homicides and violent assaults. Politicians say they are searching for an explanation, even blaming the disturbing trend on COVID.
But they need not search too far for the real answer. Cities and states controlled by liberal Democrats, obsessed with reducing incarceration rates, have for several years been passing laws undermining the ability of police, prosecutors and courts to effectively deal with serious offenders whose crimes against persons and property dramatically reduce public safety and their citizens’ quality of life.
When serious and highly recidivist offenders remain on our streets, bad things happen. After years of decreasing serious crime rates, such rates are now soaring, and for the first time in decades crime is becoming a major political issue. New York City is a classic example. After years of reduced violent crime rates, New York has enacted “justice reform” measures that reduced punishments and eliminated bond requirements, all with the goal of drastically reducing jail populations. But the resulting dramatic increase in serious offenses has made crime the principal issue in the New York mayoral race.
Even liberal leaning New Yorkers have had enough. In Atlanta, the incumbent mayor has decided not to seek reelection, apparently to avoid a referendum on the city’s exploding violent crime rate.
But liberal mayors, City Council members, governors and legislatures are not the only source of the problem. For the last several years, “progressive” activists have invested millions of dollars in an effort to elect prosecutors who are more focused on “social justice” and less focused on public safety. They’ve been successful in many of our largest cities. And their quest to reshape the American justice system is having catastrophic consequences for the citizens in those cities.
Hungarian billionaire and Democrat megadonor George Soros has led the effort by investing tens of millions in various social justice organizations and creating “Justice and Public Safety” PACs to support carefully chosen left leaning district attorney candidates.
Other liberal groups are joining the effort. Often the candidate is a criminal defense or civil rights lawyer who is committed to systematically purge a prosecutor’s office of dedicated career prosecutors. Knowing that DA’s races are historically low dollar campaigns, liberal PACs wait to invest in a race until it’s too late to effectively respond. Soros-led efforts have been successful in Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Los Angeles and many other jurisdictions across the country. Unfortunately, their promised “reforms” have been nothing more than working to reduce case loads and keep offenders out of jail at any cost. And the cost has been mayhem in the streets. Soaring homicide rates are the common denominator in the cities where social justice prosecutors have been elected.
Ironically, but predictably, the victims of the violence have disproportionately been the minority populations. Businesses in several cities have had to deal with the pledge of progressive prosecutors not to enforce shoplifting laws and thereby inviting wholesale theft and overly burdening paying customers. And the soaring crime rates aren’t just impacting local residents and businesses. San Francisco has seen a one year 750% increase in car break-ins in tourist areas.
Good prosecutors have, for many decades, encouraged diversion programs that assist juveniles and low-level adult offenders to reform and lead productive lives. But these social justice prosecutors have sacrificed safety by diverting serious and highly recidivist offenders from appropriate consequences for their crimes. The combination of soft on crime legislators and soft on crime prosecutors has literally been a deadly one for far too many Americans.
Unfortunately, Colorado is also experiencing an erosion in public safety. Our Democrat dominated Legislature has, over the last few sessions, passed bills that undermine police morale and effectiveness and bills that reduce consequences for serious offenders. We were saved from an even more disastrous bill this past session when two courageous Democrats voted to kill it in committee. I’ve watched in dismay as two seemingly well-intentioned Democrat governors let this erosion in public safety happen on their watch.
I understand that law enforcement issues are not in the experiential wheelhouse of Govs. Hickenloooper and Polis. But they have a responsibility to go to the right experts for advice. If our governor and Legislature seem oblivious to the realities of policing, crime and public safety, it’s because most of them are. Our governor and Legislature used to look to police and prosecution organizations for advice and counsel on criminal justice issues.
But that’s no longer the case. Criminal justice legislation in Colorado is now being suggested and crafted by the ACLU and state public defenders. While both groups have an important mission, their mission is not public safety. Their interests are often inimical to public safety. We should also be concerned that Soros and his philosophical allies have invested in a few Colorado DA’s races and have vowed to do so in the future.
Just as Americans in other states have begun to wake up to the growing problem of crime and are making it an important political issue once again, I’m hopeful Coloradans will do the same.
As great as our quality of life in Colorado has historically been, it is greatly eroded if Coloradans live in fear of being victimized by serious crime. Public safety is the principal responsibility of government, and we need to hold public officials accountable when they fail to recognize it as such. I urge our citizens to pay attention as the debate unfolds before the 2022 general election.
John Suthers is the mayor of Colorado Springs and previously served as the attorney general of Colorado, U.S. attorney for Colorado, executive director of the Colorado Department of Corrections, and Fourth Judicial District Attorney.
Reprinted from PERSPECTIVE: The growing crime problem | Columns | denvergazette.com