COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- Top law enforcement officers in El Paso County and the Teller County Sheriff are voicing concerns about a Colorado Senate bill that aims to limit misdemeanor arrests and eliminate cash bail for people charged with certain felony crimes.
Senate Bill 273 calls on police and deputies to not arrest people suspected of committing non-violent, misdemeanor crimes.
Supporters of the bill believe it would significantly reduce jail populations and prevent Coloradans from being locked up because they don't have the money to bail out.
“We don’t need low-level offenders at all occasions to be arrested. That’s not to meant that they get away scot-free," ACLU of Colorado public policy director Denise Maes said. “And we certainly shouldn’t hold people in jail, who are presumptively innocent, simply because they can’t afford to pay the money, the toll so to speak, to get out.”
Five of the top law enforcement officers in El Paso County, including Colorado Springs Police Chief Vince Niski, say victims will be left on the sidelines.
"The biggest thing we have an objection to is this really benefits the suspect, the criminal, and really takes out of consideration any of the concerns of the victim. When we're unable to incarcerate someone who is a repeat offender, who is a continuous offender, it takes away the punishment piece," Niski said.
In a sit-down interview with 13 Investigates, the Colorado Springs Chief said the bill would limit law enforcement working to reduce crime.
"This bill would take away any discretion we have to incarcerate people on certain misdemeanor crimes. Some of those crimes could be an arson crime that's a misdemeanor, a theft crime that's a misdemeanor, a motor vehicle theft crime that's a misdemeanor. And I think what people don't realize is on those misdemeanor crimes that this bill covers, is we would have to issue a summons," Niski explained.
However, the ACLU of Colorado said this bill would prevent situations like the violent arrest of 73-year-old Karen Garner by Loveland police officers. The elderly woman with dementia was arrested last June for stealing $13.88 worth of items from Walmart, according to a lawsuit filed last month by her family. Two officers were charged in connection with the arrest this May.
“We don’t situations like what we saw recently with a woman in Loveland who was accused of taking $13 worth of goods from the Walmart. She was arrested in an aggressive sort of way. She could have just been cited," Maes said.
If made law, SB 273 would allow people arrested for class 4, 5, and 6 felonies to get out of paying a cash bond unless a judge deems them a flight or safety risk. Niski believes that would make it easier for accused criminals to skip out on their court dates.
"Two failures to appear before we can actually incarcerate somebody in the jail," Niski said. "If they fail the third time then we can actually take them to jail, incarcerate them, and ensure they go to court."
The House Judiciary Committee is currently debating the bill. Check back for updates.