It is OK to steal in Colorado. That is the message that is being fostered by state government and private business throughout our state. It is a subtle attack on private property rights, and a re-writing of personal accountability and a basic understanding of right and wrong.
Right now, in our state, theft remains a low- or no-bond charge and is probation-eligible no matter how much is stolen. Whether the theft takes the form of a white-collar thug embezzling millions of dollars from investors, unscrupulous predators who target the elderly and disabled, or brazen and recalcitrant shoplifters, theft in Colorado is nearly meaningless.
This year, numerous members of the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives in America’s #1 state for motor vehicle theft voted against elevating car theft — that obvious, wrong-every-time crime — to a felony. Those who argued for keeping the theft of working-class Coloradans’ cars a mere misdemeanor made numerous excuses for why accountability and punishment should remain at the lowest level in our system. The message to victims and offenders alike is clear: “It is JUST a property crime.” Certainly, insurance will cover it, right?
King Soopers’ decision to fire five employees, including a 32-year veteran of Kings, who proactively attempted to apprehend a shoplifter-turned-violent-resister-of-apprehension (armed with a box cutter) is only the most recent and most publicized example of apathy toward property crimes by corporate victims. Parent company Kroger’s stated excuse is that their policy is based on a desire to protect the employees. Their plain concern is for their money.
Workers’ comp and liability to the offender who may sue are their focus, not right or wrong.
Yet their decision sends a strong message to our community. They do not care about theft. Imagine what message is received by children shopping with their parents when they watch a crook brazenly steal in front of everyone — and then simply walk out of the store without so much as a, “Hey, you, stop or we’ll stand here and watch you leave.” King Soopers’ policy and their firing of five decent employees frustrates efforts to instill in our children a basic understanding of right and wrong, lawful and illegal. Kroger wants your kids to know that stealing is wrong, but they will never stop someone from doing it. My best guess is that they rarely ever report theft to law enforcement. They write it off, seek insurance coverage, or — more likely — just treat it is a cost of business and pass the cost of that selfish, liability-first policy onto law-abiding citizens.
They are not alone. Most businesses do the same thing. It may be good business, but it is appalling.
I want to shop in a store that proudly promotes their vigorous approach to capturing thieves and seeing them held accountable.
Where are they?
For those who attribute every criminal act to a failure of society, let us dispense with the mythical and unsupported notion that theft is the product of desperate need. Theft is — every time — about greed and a disrespect for a fundamental assumption of a free society: that property rights matter. In only 28 years of practicing as an attorney in the criminal justice system at the municipal, state, military, and federal levels, I have never once encountered the fabled unicorn of the left — someone stealing a loaf of bread to feed their hungry kids. Never. That is not to say it has not happened, but not in my experience. Ever.
People steal because they are greedy or lazy or both. Thieves of all stripes lack respect for their fellow Coloradans and elevate their own desires above all else, including the law.
There is an obvious fix, but one we have not tried in earnest during my lifetime.
Theft is a repugnant and liberty-hating act. It is dangerous to a free people and those who steal should be dealt with swiftly, consistently and with predictable, certain punishments. Jail. At a minimum. Every time. Including first offense. Not, in many cases, for a long period of time. But every theft of any amount should involve a loss of some period of liberty.
First-time shoplifting or theft of internet services? Spend the weekend in jail. Steal a car? You lose at least one month. Defraud the elderly? No less than one year in jail. Repeat offender? You get the idea.
Jail, not prison, for first offenses and many subsequent offenses. Why? Because our Department of Corrections (prisons) and parole system are broken. A three-year prison sentence for felony theft means that the thief likely would be transitioned to community corrections in about 15 minutes and paroled in several hours. In Colorado, the truth is there is no truth in sentencing. Nobody on the planet can say the minimum amount of time a convicted thief will spend incarcerated in prison in Colorado. That is ridiculous. Good news: DOC and parole have zero authority to regulate county jail sentences.
It is not OK to steal in Aurora. Early indications are that Aurora’s mandatory jail sentences for car theft are having a positive impact on car theft rates in Colorado’s third-largest city. Imagine that; when there are predictable, punitive consequences for theft, there is less theft. Weird.
George Brauchler is the former district attorney for the 18th Judicial District. He also is an Owens Early Criminal Justice Fellow at the Common Sense Institute and president of the Advance Colorado Academy, which identifies, trains and connects conservative leaders in Colorado. He hosts The George Brauchler Show on 710KNUS Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. Follow him on Twitter: @GeorgeBrauchler.