Beth McCann Presentation 12.6.21

Denver District Attorney Beth McCann gives a presentation to a City Council working group on public safety on Monday, Dec. 6, 2021. 

Denver’s district attorney doesn’t believe that the decision to release people from jail early because of COVID-19 concerns has contributed to violent crime. 

Her comments, made during a City Council presentation Monday, are a noticeable departure from statements made in recent months by Denver’s police chief and public safety director, who both have expressed concerns about the city’s recent crime increase.

District Attorney Beth McCann also said she doesn’t support eliminating cash bail altogether, something reformists have called for. McCann said doing away with cash bail would leave courts with too few options for balancing accountability with making sure pretrial detention measures don’t become too draconian.

In a presentation to a public safety working group, McCann said cases tracked by her office during the pandemic showed about 20% of people granted an early release or lower bond because of COVID-19 practices committed a new offense, compared with 11% of people released without a COVID concession.

She said none of the people granted a COVID exception have committed homicides.

“So I do not believe that because we were attempting to release the jail population during COVID that we saw a big increase in people committing violent crime,” McCann said.

She said her office is also in the process of analyzing data on about 3,800 cases involving people who have been released on personal recognizance bonds since the beginning of 2021 to find out how frequently they have committed violent crimes after release.

McCann said police will notify her office if they believe there is a defendant they think should be held without bail. She said prosecutors will argue what bail amount they think is best in each case, but judges sometimes make decisions against her office's recommendations.

McCann pointed to a case from mid-November in which a man accused of committing a homicide near Cheesman Park had been released in Boulder County on a personal recognizance bond the previous day, even though prosecutors had requested a $25,000 bond.

“We have found that a majority of people on PR bonds do not reoffend. But there are certainly some that do, and some do in horrible ways,” she said.

She added that prosecutors have to strike a difficult balance between protecting public safety and avoiding holding people in jail who haven’t been convicted of crimes.

“We’re trying to be as reasonable and responsible as we can be, but also understanding that holding someone in jail before they've been convicted of a crime is very disruptive to that person's life, their family and their jobs.”

Her comments Monday contrast starkly with statements made over the summer by Denver’s top safety officials, who have said homicides and other violent crimes are spiking in the city in part because too many violent criminals are returning to the streets on pretrial release, probation and parole.

In an earlier presentation to the public safety working group, Police Chief Paul Pazen said 25 suspects were alleged to have committed a homicide while on some kind of court-mandated supervision.

The victims “could be alive today if other parts of (the) criminal justice system were working as designed,” he said.

McCann said she doesn’t support eliminating cash bail — a recommendation of Denver’s Reimagining Public Safety and Policing Task Force — without an alternative for effectively holding dangerous people in pretrial detention. The community-led public safety reform task force, on which the DA’s office had representation, released a report last spring with 112 recommendations for rethinking policing and the criminal legal system.

Eliminating cash bail would mean either holding someone in pretrial detention without any way of securing release, or to grant them release on a personal recognizance bond, she said.

“I think we have a lot of protections in place and I feel like we’re doing the best job we can do. But none of us know for sure if somebody is going to go out and commit a crime,” she said, adding that on the flip side, “we don't have in place enough of a protection for the person right now. They're going to be held without any opportunity of getting out.”