Study: Crime ‘skyrockets’ as policing decreases
As the number of uniformed officers per capita dwindled and public safety’s share of city spending — although it remains to be the single biggest item — fell, Denver’s crime rates skyrocketed, according to a new analysis from a think tank.
Some 70 miles away, Colorado Springs had the opposite experience. Its crime rate decreased, as the number of uniformed officers rose in the same time frame.
The tale of these two cities might help explain why Colorado “became less safe” in the last decade, the Common Sense Institute postulated in a report that compared the “distinctly different trends in policing and police resources that have produced differing outcomes.”
The CSI report suggested a strong correlation between the two cities’ stances on crime and their public safety climates, arguing that the public safety policies adopted by Colorado’s second-biggest city served their residents better than Denver’s efforts.
To illustrate its point, the report noted the 2021 and 2022 fourth-quarter rankings of seven Colorado municipalities compared to about 200 other large-sized cities nationwide.
“Of Colorado’s two largest cities, Denver and Colorado Springs, the rankings show that Denver ranks far worse in every crime category with the exception of arson,” the report said.
The report’s authors sought to illustrate, by looking at the two cities, how prevailing public policies affect crime waves.
Noting Colorado’s crime wave, the CSI report, which used FBI data, said only three states had worse soaring crime rates between 2019 and 2020.
“Colorado has some challenges,” said Paul Pazen, a former Denver Police chief who is one of the authors of the CSI report.
“We’re at the bottom of the barrel and we need to get this turned around quickly,” said Pazen, who is now a Common Sense Institute public safety fellow.
Colorado’s crime rate, calculated by the number of crimes per 100,000 citizens, increased from 2010 to 2022 by 32% — from 5,139.2 to 6,783.1, the report said.
“If we had similar types of problems in our education system,” Pazen said, “then parents across the state would be demanding change.”
Advocates for reducing penalties argue that a tough-on-crime approach hasn’t worked, and that systemic problems persist in the criminal justice system that have disproportionately snagged people of color. Some also maintain that crime should be viewed through the lens of public health, and the focus should be prevention, rather than intervention or interdiction. They also argue that stiff penalties for low-level offenses is counterproductive — they keep people in jail, with all the negative repercussions that entails.
While the rising crime rate affects crime victims, it also leaves a financial burden on everyone, the report said. Last year’s “cost of crime” reached nearly $30 billion in Denver. At the 2010 rate of crime, the cost would have been $24.8 billion, 17% lower than in 2022.
The report’s central thesis is that cities where local leaders prioritized uniformed officers and law enforcement’s budgets saw lower crime rates.
In Colorado Springs, the number of uniformed officers per resident increased by 5.7% — from 154.2 to 163 per 100,000 residents — between 2010 and 2022.
In that time frame, Colorado Springs’ crime rate decreased by 15.9% — from 8,555 to 7,195.
In Denver, by comparison, the number of uniformed police officers per resident decreased by 15.1% from 239.1 to 203.
And, in the same time frame, Denver’s crime rate rose 32%.
If spending priorities reflect a city’s values, then a sharp contract also exists between Colorado Springs and Denver.
In Denver, public safety gets the biggest share of the spending pie, but the police department’s budget has decreased as a share of the total budget over the years — from 13% in 2013 to 10.3% in 2021.
In Colorado Springs, the police department receives the largest share of the budget and that has remained more or less steady over the years — an average of 32.6% from 2013 to 2023. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the city decided to allocate nearly 38% of total budget to the department.
The report said one more “crucial element” affects the criminal justice system — policies out of the state Capitol.
In the last several years, a slew of policy changes adopted by the General Assembly reduced sentencing, decreased the incarcerated population and increased inmates’ eligibility for parole, and the result, the analysis said.
In particular, between 2010 to 2022, the legislature passed 42 bills affecting sentencing, incarceration, parole and release, length of stay and recidivism, said the report, which added that, subsequently, the state faced higher crime rates, fewer criminals admitted to prison and decreased criminal incarcerations.
“Our goal, as chiefs of cities in the state of Colorado, isn’t to put as many people in jail as we can,” Pueblo Police Department Chief Chris Noeller said. “It’s to keep certain individuals in jail who commit crimes over and over again.”
Due to legislative decisions, more people are being released back into the community to re-offend, Noeller said.
Since 2010, the number of prisoners released on parole decreased about 50%, from 9,334 to 4,669 in 2022. Meanwhile, the prison population decreased by 28.4% from 22,860 to 16,361 in that time frame.
The number of new admissions to prison decreased by 41.6% from 10,706 in 2010 to 6,256 in 2022.
“Anecdotally, I would expect the prison population to not be going down at a time when you’ve got crime going up,” said Steven Byers, the senior economist with CSI and of the report’s authors.
Added Pazen: “You’ve seen a dramatic increase in arrests but if nobody is being prosecuted, if the courts aren’t holding individuals accountable, if there’s not adequate supervision for parole and probation, then of course we’re going to see increases in crime.”
The declining prison population is largely due to fewer resources for police, following legislative policies that led to decrease law enforcement retention, Noeller said.
“Not enough attention has been paid to legislative issues that have decreased retention and hiring and changed laws to make it to where criminals don’t stay in jail,” Noeller said.
Law enforcement agencies across the country are facing staffing challenges, with 145 officers leaving the Denver Police Department in 2021 and 132 leaving in 2022, both up from 78 in 2020.
An appropriately staffed and supported police department is essential to a prosperous city, the report said, adding that effective policing affects population growth, business development, entertainment venues, conventions, tourism and other city functions.
“The public’s perception of law enforcement and their safety has an outsized impact on how they view the quality of their local government,” the report said. “When people perceive policing positively, they are more likely to feel safe and trust their local government.”
When asked if the study’s authors looked at any other factors that might lead to increases in crime rate, Pazen said “no,” adding the focus was on increasing the number of police.
Denver, in fact, has more police officers per capita than Colorado Springs — 274 versus 163 per 100,000 residents. When pressed why Denver’s crime rate is not lower, Pazen said Denver’s needs for more officers is greater.
“Denver has DIA, the third largest airport in the world, and all the venues that exist in Denver for its four professional sports teams,” Pazen said. “Based on Denver’s decreased number, that was the right way to measure the decrease in uniformed officers to address higher demands.”
He added: “Castle Rock and the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office are both fully staffed, but their needs are much different than a Colorado Springs or Denver.”
The Denver Gazette
3 June 2023
BY KYLA PEARCE
The Denver Gazette
Reprinted from The Denver Gazette