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Alternatives to criminal arrests offer long-term benefits

When a high-profile, news-making arrest occurs, many of those hearing or reading about the story presumes guilt. The act of the police taking anyone - famous or not - into custody carries the assumption that the individual is responsible for a criminal act based on evidence.

Yet, few ask perhaps the most critical question. Was the arrest necessary?

Arrests up. Criminal activity down.

10.5 million arrests occur annually, according to the Vera Institute of Justice. Most apprehensions revolve around minor crimes involving drugs, drinking and disorderly conduct.

The report goes on to claim that more effective methods aside than detaining suspects are available and not add to a ballooning prison population.

Data from the FBI and the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics reveal that for every 100 arrests in 2016, 99 of those led to suspects finding themselves behind bars. That number is up from 1991 where 70 people purportedly on the wrong side of the law were locked up.

Surprisingly, criminal activity was on a significant decline during those 25 years.

Exploring alternatives

While some law enforcement departments incentivize arrests, others are considering diversion programs to identify local residents they commonly interact with while on patrol. Many suffer from homelessness, addiction, or mental health problems. By teaming with health and human service providers, other alternatives to booking suspects are considered, including:

  • Medical care
  • Mental health counseling
  • Drug and alcohol treatment
  • Short-term crisis beds
  • Housing aid

Additionally, there is a seldom-used statute in Colorado, CRS 16-5-206, that suggests in some cases a summons is more appropriate than an arrest. This statute applies to class 4-6 felonies; it does not apply to sex crimes or domestic violence.

Reducing the sheer number of arrests is only a small portion when it comes to systemic change. Identifying the issues leading to possible criminal activity and treating the underlying problem can go a long way to make communities safer and law enforcement officers' jobs a little easier.

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