Aurora, CO

Aurora sends shoplifters to jail

David Heitz

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By David Heitz / NewsBreak Denver

(Aurora, Colo.) The Aurora City Council approved Monday a new law that requires people who shoplift $300 or more to serve at least a three-day jail sentence in the Aurora Detention Center.

The council split along party lines, with Republican councilmembers supporting the penalty. Councilmembers Ruben Medina, Juan Marcano, Crystal Murillo, and Alison Coombs voted no.

Councilmember Danielle Jurinsky brought forward the ordinance. “This ordinance really is to start standing up for the business owners in this city,” Jurinsky said, “and to stop doing everything in our power to help criminals.”

Coombs asked whether judges use existing Aurora laws to punish shoplifters. City Attorney Pete Schulte said prosecution of shoplifting cases fell during COVID. Some warrants have not been served for people who have not shown up for court.

Stores often don’t prosecute cases

In many cases, businesses don’t prosecute shoplifters because they’re gone by the time police arrive, he said. Some chain stores have certain thresholds that must be met for prosecution, such as a minimum dollar amount.

Coffman said he hopes businesses will make that threshold $300 now that the city has imposed a mandatory jail sentence. Councilmember Juan Marcano said data shows that jail is not a deterrent for theft. He said criminals make connections in jail.

Mayor Pro Tem Francoise Bergan disagreed. “I think for me jail is a deterrent. And it’s not like they’re going to learn terrible things from people in the detention center.”

City handing out $4.5 million for security cameras

Marcano said he takes shoplifting seriously. He added the council recently appropriated $4.5 million in grants so businesses can buy security cameras.

Councilmember Alison Coombs pushed to have cost estimates associated with Jurinsky’s bill. City officials estimated the cost of jail at Aurora Detention Center at $75 per night. But the public defender’s office did not provide a cost estimate. Court costs also weren’t included.

Jurinsky and councilmember Dustin Zvonek said the city must do everything in its power to keep residents and businesses safe. Zvonek said if businesses leave Aurora or decide not to come there the city will lose retail tax revenue. He sponsored legislation in June that requires jail time for car theft.

A ‘permissive environment’ for shoplifters

Councilmember Steve Sundberg used San Francisco as an example of a soft-on-crime city that is rotting away. “I don’t want that to happen to Aurora.”

Mayor Mike Coffman said criminals know all about Aurora’s “permissive environment … there’s no accountability.”

Judges could fine criminals up to $2,650 under Aurora law. But even if they do, state law does not allow jailing them for not paying fines.

The new mandatory jail sentence law will sunset in two years. In the meantime, city officials will collect data to see if the law reduces shoplifting in the city.

Shoplifting arrests few in Aurora

Aurora Police Division Chief Cassidee Carlson said 59 people were arrested in 2019 for shoplifting. In 2020 that plunged to a dozen, and in 2021 only three people were arrested. Police have arrested 11 people so far this year.

Other people receive a summons to appear in court or shoplifting. In 2019, 118 received a summons for shoplifting, followed by 86 in 20202 and 61 in 2021. So far this year 27 summonses have been made.

Cassidy said that due to engaging businesses about shoplifting, police have put together some strong cases in recent weeks against people who steal.

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I've been in the news business 35 years, spending much of my career in editing roles at local newspapers in Los Angeles, Detroit, and the Quad-Cities of Illinois and Iowa. Upon moving to Denver in 2018, I began experiencing severe mental illness due to several traumatic experiences. I became homeless on the street for about a year before spending time in the state mental hospital. I am living proof that people can rebound from mental illness with proper treatment, even after experiencing homelessness. I consider myself a lucky guy to live in a great place like Denver. I hope my writing reflects the passion I have for living here.

Denver, CO
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