(CBS) — People suspected of non-violent misdemeanors would no longer be arrested under a bill at the State Capitol. Over the last year, many police departments avoided jailing people for low-level offenses to decrease the spread of COVID-19 in jails and prisons. However, police say it resulted in a 28% increase in crime. The bill, they say, will embolden criminals further.

Colorado State Capitol building is located in Denver, Colorado, USA. (credit: Getty Images)

“If arresting and jailing people would make us safer, we’d be the safest country in the world,” Lee said during a floor debate on the bill Thursday.

Colorado’s jail population, he notes, has grown 800% over the last 50 years — and half of the arrests are for low-level, non-violent offenses. He says many people sit in jail simply because they’re too poor to pay bond.

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Lee says this is why he introduced a bill that would require officers issue tickets — or a summons to appear in court — for all non-violent misdemeanors, except car thefts, over $1,000. It would also require those arrested for class 4, 5 and 6 felonies to be released on their own recognizance — unless they’re a safety or flight risk.

Westminster Deputy Police Chief Todd Reeves says the bill doesn’t consider the victims of those crimes.

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He says, under the bill, police could no longer arrest suspects in crimes like false imprisonment, harassment, and inciting or engaging in a riot. They would get a summons, and couldn’t be jailed until their second failure to appear in court.

Lee says they can always get a warrant. He says the bill is also about social justice. Black people, he says, are being arrested at eight times the rate of whites in Colorado, and too many, he says, are dying in police custody.

Chief Reeves says that’s not why they oppose the bill.

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The bill also creates a task force made up of everyone from law enforcement, to crime victims, mental health to racial justice advocates.

Bill sponsor, Democrat Sen. Pete Lee, says law enforcement has an incarceration mentality.

(credit: Getty Images)

Over the next year, they will come up with alternatives to a police response for not only low-level offenses but mental health crisis, homelessness and substance abuse.
The bill passed the Senate. It still needs to pass the House.

Shaun Boyd