Aurora lawmakers impose mandatory 3 days in jail for shoplifting more than $300

September 27th, 2022

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Melissa Morehead, a senior detention officer, gets shackles ready for the five inmates she’s transferring to the Arapahoe County Jail at the Aurora Municipal Detention Center. City lawmakers voted 6-4 Sept. 26, 2022 to impose mandatory three-day jail sentences for adults convicted of shoplifting more than $300. (File photo Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)

AURORA | Any adult convicted of stealing more than $300 in merchandise from an Aurora retail store will soon face no fewer than three days in the municipal jail, under a new mandatory minimum sentencing law passed by Aurora’s City Council on Monday.

The minimum jail sentence of three days, short enough to be served in the city holding facility, was introduced in response to what Mayor Mike Coffman described as the “literally lawless” problem of retail theft in the city, despite a marked drop in arrests.

Police reported in a summary of crime data for the week of Sept. 18 that property crime has risen 10.3% since last year. At the same time, police Division Chief Cassidee Carlson said Monday that the number of arrests and summonses of adults for retail theft exceeding $300 was less than pre-pandemic levels, with 177 reported in 2019, compared to 38 so far in 2022.

She also said that shoplifting is underreported and that police are trying to build relationships with the owners of stores targeted for theft. The proposal’s sponsor, Danielle Jurinsky, said the law was meant to support businesses that have become the victims of crime.

The change would not apply to juveniles convicted of shoplifting.

“This ordinance is really to start standing up for business owners in this city and start talking about the victims, and addressing something to help the victims, and stop doing everything in our power to help the criminals,” Jurinsky said.

Not all council members agreed, though, that jail is effective at discouraging crime. Councilmember Juan Marcano said he believed diversion and prevention programs that have the potential to reach juveniles would be more effective and cost the community less in the long run.

While earlier this month the plan was criticized for having no fiscal analysis, Jurinsky responded to Marcano by saying there would be “absolutely no financial impact from the judicial part of this,” though she said the public defender’s office was unsure what the cost would be, and it was unclear whether Jurinsky considered the cost of prosecuting more cases in municipal court.

Jurinsky also said it would cost the city $75 for every additional night in the city jail, but she did not say if this was the per-person estimate or the total estimate of the cost of new incarcerations.

She argued that it was less humane to sentence defendants to diversion programs than jail, because the cost of wearing an ankle monitor is too much for some to afford, and if defendants can’t pay the up-front costs associated with attaching the monitor, they’re thrown in jail.

Councilmember Alison Coombs said she believed the impacts of incarceration, including being forced to miss work, made jail a more expensive option regardless.

“Although I do think there’s an issue with the cost of diversion programs, I don’t think that it’s comparable to the cost of losing one’s employment, which can lead to many other downstream effects,” she said. “If you no-call, no-show to your job because you’re in jail, you’re going to lose your job.”

The law’s supporters again urged the city to think of the toll that shoplifting takes on small businesses, with Councilmember Francoise Bergan insisting that jail acts as a deterrent for criminals.

“I think it does help to deter that behavior in our city,” Bergan said. “I think there’s also a tremendous loss to the business owners. … They’re losing millions of dollars, in some cases, from stolen items, and what do we say to them?”

Marcano replied to say that “jail is not an effective deterrent” and that the new sentencing law would not steer the city in a new direction in terms of crime.

“Are we just digging ourselves into the same hole that we’re already in, where we just accept this kind of crime and we just basically create a revolving door of people going to jail?” he asked. “I think we can actually address the problem and change people’s lives through effective intervention, and frankly it’s much cheaper for us to do that through (doing) things like raising the minimum wage and investing in housing.”

Council members voted 6-4 to finalize the new mandatory sentencing law, with Coombs, Marcano, Ruben Medina and Crystal Murillo opposed. The law includes a sunset provision that will require the group to revisit its effectiveness in two years.