From prosecutors to police officers, it is a distressing time to be a member of law enforcement. They’ve been buffeted by the soft-on-crime, anti-police movement in Colorado as across the nation. This cultural shift in disposition, and the resulting uptick in crime, inevitably chips away at the pride of public servants.
When the gutsy people in these noble roles retreat or retire, there are ominous implications for the rest of us. The people of Pueblo County in southern Colorado are experiencing that grim reality now as the shortage of available prosecutors in the Tenth Judicial District has become so bad the district attorney has warned a chief judge, fellow attorneys and other law enforcement officials that he fears “Pueblo will be a less safe community in 2022 than it has been in the past.”
That’s what DA Jeff Chostner said to his fellow law enforcement colleagues in a private email obtained earlier this month by Colorado Politics. The DA also warned that his office — which handles more than 10,000 cases each year — may soon pursue fewer charges for certain types of crime. Chostner added he anticipates the county will incur more prosecutor departures before the end of the year as the office — which is now operating at under 70% — is hemorrhaging one lawyer after another to private practice.
Still, the more troubling variable is prosecutorial offices like his across the nation aren’t seeing any interest by job seekers. Chostner said he hasn’t had any applicants “for the better part of a year.” He was blunt as to why. Chostner said the unprecedented hesitancy from young attorneys and law school graduates to prosecute is due to “the poisonous attitude toward law enforcement that has been created in the past year-and-a-half.”
Tom Raynes, executive director of the Colorado District Attorneys Council, acknowledged to Colorado Politics there’s “no doubt” some disheartened prosecutors are leaving their posts after “attacks upon the profession that unjustly transferred the wrongdoing of a few to all.”
As for boots-on-the-ground policing, departments have earned to right to say “told you so” after chilling criminal incidents near and far shocked the senses of communities across the country.
That was most evident last weekend in Waukesha, Wisconsin, when the public found out the apparent mass murderer who killed six people and injured dozens more driving a car through a Christmas parade is actually a violent career criminal. The most tragic part was the man was let out on $1,000 bond just days before the incident — for allegedly running over the mother of his children with a car. After the Waukesha massacre, the Office of Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm said the $1,000 bail for the previous criminal charges against the suspect was “inappropriately low.” You think?
Here on the Rocky Mountain home front, Aurora is weathering a crime wave that recently resulted in a pair of gang-related shootings of minors outside high schools. The disquieting violence is the latest in a savage spree across Aurora as the city’s police department is reeling from staff attrition and disagreement within their ranks over how best to fill openings.
In July, 9News reported staffing levels at the Aurora Police Department were at a critical level, with more than 150 officers having left in the previous 18 months. With the department down 50 officers back in mid-summer, police leadership called the situation a serious safety issue as some calls for service were left pending for upward of six hours. Aurora Police Sgt. Marc Sears said “recent legislation and the current climate” were making officers quit as “their families are coming to them and going, ‘do something else.’”
It’s an issue for law enforcement across Colorado. Indeed, 73% of respondents in a March statewide Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police survey said their agencies had a staff shortage. Think of Aurora as the canary in the coal mine. Retired Aurora police lieutenant Dave Cernich warned of this in a letter sent last year to the Aurora City Council and published in The Gazette. Cernich detailed how he felt the city’s anti-police approach was empowering criminals to victimize everyday people. Cernich didn’t pull punches, telling the council he prays the city is never faced with an active shooter situation like the 2012 theater shooting “because I’m not sure who will respond or how it will be resolved.”
Some elected leaders in Front Range metro areas are now quickly pivoting to fund police to solve staffing shortages; that’s overdue. Denver, for example, will spend $13.6 million next year to hire new first responders for police, fire, sheriff and 911.
Yet, solving this problem isn’t only about spending taxpayer money. Much more important is elected officials, and powerful public influencers, celebrating law enforcement for the heroes they are — not smearing them as the villains they aren’t.