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Safer streets bill draws support from police, opposition from Republicans

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Posted at 7:36 PM, Mar 03, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-03 21:36:44-05

DENVER — A bill aimed at reducing crime rates in Colorado through street improvements passed its first committee test Thursday.

Senate Bill 22-001 would create a grant program through the Department of Public Safety and appropriate $10.3 million towards the program. DPS would conduct an analysis of local governments to determine areas in the state where crime is most prevalent and then distribute the funding to help.

The money could be used for things like better lighting, improved trash collection, graffiti removal, better signage, sidewalk improvements and more.

“This bill is going to let communities decide what we can do for them,” said Sen. Janet Buckner, D-Arapahoe, one of the bill’s co-sponsors. “Right now, local municipalities and local governments are getting so many demands for their money, so there are some things that they want to do that they're just not able to do because they don't have enough resources. This can help those communities in that way.”

Buckner says she has also heard from communities about their desire for better signage and for a safer rapid transit route.

This is just one of several bills Democratic lawmakers and Governor Jared Polis spoke about in their press conference last month to address Colorado’s crime rates.

Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle, Arapahoe County Sheriff Tyler Brown and Pueblo Police Chief Chris Noeller testified in support of the bill, saying it will help business partners implement some of the safety recommendations.

“Arapahoe County is growing. The development of new business and the ability to implement these design recommendations that come from our office are part of this bill,” Brown said.

However, in Thursday's committee hearing, the bill received pushback from Republican committee members like Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer, R-Weld, who questioned whether this state expenditure was really necessary.

Throughout the hearing, Kirkmeyer asked the witnesses testifying for the bill whether there were any examples of a local government that isn’t using their land-use code for their design elements within their zoning code.

“These are things that local governments should be doing already,” Kirkmeyer said. “They already have this in place. I’m having a hard time understanding why we think putting $10 million into something is actually going to prevent crime in the state when we are going to spend a lot of time in an advisory committee and spend time putting together an analysis.”

Kirkmeyer went on to say that safety and crime prevention should be the priorities of local governments to address, particularly when it comes to street safety.

Others opposed the bill's language, saying it was too vague or too broad and could result in the return of so-called broken window policing.

“There’s a lot of ways that this could go badly as well. This is not just a simple strategy,” said Christie Doner, executive director of the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition.

Denise Maes, a public policy analyst for Servicios Sigue, is also opposed to the bill in its current form. Maes was one of the many who stood behind Polis during last month’s crime prevention press conference, but says she has concerns with the bill’s current language.

For one, Maes says the bill does not require local governments to include community input on how the grant money is spent.

“This particular bill had been touted as one of community involvement to create safer streets and neighborhoods,” Maes said. “You need neighborhood and community involved in the first instance, because they'll tell you where the crime is, how it's happening, why it's happening.”

She’s also worried about some of the broad language of the bill, saying there’s nothing in the introduced version to prevent the money from going to policing or code enforcement, which she believes can disproportionately impact communities of color.

Maes acknowledges that there is rising crime and says the bill is good in theory, but she wants more guarantees before she can fully support it.

One of the amendments passed Thursday guarantees that none of the money could go to law enforcement. Another amendment called for more involvement from nonprofit organizations. A third amendment sought to clarify that the money can apply to rural areas of the state as well.

Despite the opposition, SB 22-001 passed committee and will now move on through the legislative process.