Part 3: Using Criminal Justice to Support Our Communities

This is the last part of a three part series on Criminal Justice. You can read my overview here.

As your next Attorney General, I will work hard to fix the criminal justice system for the health and safety of our communities and to protect victims of crime in Colorado.  To do so, I will work to develop and institute real policies to improve the lives of Coloradans and help our state for years to come.

Addressing Sexual Assault

Sexual assault remains a pervasive threat.  In a 2010 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 20% of all women reported having been raped and many more reported cases of sexual violence other than rape. There is much more we can do to support victims and enable them to report crimes without fear of intimidation or embarrassment.

As Attorney General, I will work to ensure that survivors have access to the resources necessary to begin the healing process.  An important element of this effort is increasing access to sexual assault nurse examiners—or “SANE nurses”—who receive specialized training in providing trauma-informed physical and mental health care for victims and in collecting and preserving forensic evidence following a sexual assault.  As AG, I will spearhead such training and encourage the use of SANE nurses more broadly.  To support this effort and an enhanced commitment to addressing such cases, I will create a special Sexual Assault Assistance Unit of specialized prosecutors and investigators in the Attorney General’s office to offer their experience and expertise to district attorneys across the state on sexual assault cases.  For smaller counties, this unit will provide invaluable support and offer expertise that they otherwise would lack in addressing sexual assault.

It is essential that we train investigators to ensure that survivors feel heard and respected when interacting with law enforcement.  Taking the wrong approach to sexual assault cases can lead to further mistreatment of victims. Consequently, we must train law enforcement on how to recognize, understand, and respond effectively and empathetically to trauma victims. For example, trauma victims may be unable to speak and communicate effectively. To an untrained responder, the limitation might undermine the victim’s credibility, but those trained in trauma-informed care will recognize and respect the victim’s experience. As Attorney General, I will lead the Colorado Police Officer Standards and Training (POST), which is housed in the Attorney General’s office, to ensure that the law enforcement training curriculum devotes significant time to this critically important topic and that it includes participation by victims’ service experts.

Combatting Human Trafficking

Given that human trafficking touches all parts of our state (and other states and countries), the Attorney General’s office is well positioned to develop a special team to work with and support District Attorney’s offices across the state.  Human trafficking targets vulnerable populations.  In Colorado, over a hundred cases are reported a year via a national hotline, a number that’s likely significantly lower than the number of cases that go unnoticed and unreported.  As our next Attorney General, I will prioritize addressing the illegal and inhumane trafficking of often-underage individuals for sex and labor.  Because these cases are often multi-jurisdictional and complex, a new statewide team can work to improve our approach and responses to human trafficking crimes.

Seeking Alternatives to Incarceration for Those Living with Substance Abuse Disorders or Mental Illness

A number of communities in Colorado have implemented drug and mental health courts, enabling those abusing opioids, other drugs, or confronting serious mental illness to get the help they need rather than face a lengthy jail sentence.  As Attorney General, I will work with leaders around the State, including our District Attorneys, County Sheriffs, public health officials, public defenders, and mental health professionals to promote diversion efforts for drug and mental health treatment as opposed to criminal sentences wherever possible.  This is the essence of the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program that I am committed to support and that is being implemented in Pueblo and Alamosa, among other counties.  I will also seek to bring drug treatment and mental health services to jails and prisons for those who have committed serious crimes and need treatment.  And I will work with the legislature to provide prosecutors with even more discretion to use such diversionary programs.  We need to do better.

Revitalizing Environmental Criminal Enforcement, Elder Abuse Prosecution, and Conviction Integrity

As Colorado Attorney General, I will continue Colorado’s long history of leadership in protecting our land, air, and water.  In so doing, I will follow Ken Salazar’s example of reinvigorating environmental enforcement at the Colorado Attorney General’s office.  When Ken was our Attorney General, for example, he established an environmental crimes unit and brought cases that protected our water, land, and air, like his action to address the water contamination involving the Summitville Mine.  Our current Attorney General has shut down this unit, leaving our state less protected against corporate polluters.  As our next Attorney General, I will revitalize our Environmental Crimes Unit.

Those over 65 years old represent the fastest growing portion of Colorado’s population. Unfortunately, as members of our families age, they are increasingly vulnerable to organized scams and abuse.  Whether criminals claim to be a threatening IRS agent demanding money “or else,” impersonate a computer tech support service, or employ a fraudulent “romance scam,” elder Coloradans are being cheated out of their hard earned money every day. To address the growing elder abuse problem, I will establish a new Elder Abuse Unit in the Attorney General’s office to combat the criminal targeting of Colorado’s elder population for financial and physical exploitation.

The new Elder Abuse Unit will be a shared resource for local prosecutors, providing access to trained professionals, the State Grand Jury, and an ability to collaborate across jurisdictions.  By working collectively across jurisdictions, Colorado can better identify scams and abuses of the elderly population, manage a centralized database, and undertake consumer education efforts.  By collaborating not only with our fellow Colorado enforcement agencies, but also with Federal authorities and State Attorneys General across the U.S., we will do everything in our power to reduce the reward and increase the risk of criminal exploitation of Colorado’s elderly population.

When I served as Colorado Law’s Dean, I established the Korrey Wise Innocence Project there.  Korrey Wise was wrongly imprisoned for a rape he did not commit (as one of the “Central Park Five”).  When he was released, and compensated for his unlawful imprisonment, he wanted to invest in an innocence project and chose to do so here in Colorado.  Our Attorney General’s office used to have a Conviction Integrity Unit to complement the work of the Korrey Wise Innocence Project, but our current AG shut it down.  As our next AG, I will re-establish and enhance a Conviction Integrity Unit in our Attorney General’s office.

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At its most effective, the criminal justice system works in conjunction with communities to increase overall wellbeing and safety. As Attorney General, I am committed to facilitating these cooperative frameworks, and ensuring that our communities feel supported by our criminal justice system.

 


Part 2: Criminal Justice Improvement and Reform

This is the second in a three part series on Criminal Justice. You can read my overview here.

As your Attorney General, I will work hard to make sure our criminal justice system is fair and just—and that it works for communities and law enforcement.  I will also ensure that our law enforcement agencies receive the proper tools and training to be safe and to keep our communities safe.  Finally, I will work with our rural law enforcement agencies to help them receive the support they need to be effective.

Supporting and Enhancing Law Enforcement
Providing Modern Tools & Training to Law Enforcement and Prosecutors 

Colorado’s law enforcement officers and prosecutors must have the tools and training to respond effectively to threats to the public’s physical and financial safety.  To ensure that our first responders have access to 21st century technology, I worked with President Obama on a bipartisan initiative to develop a nationwide interoperable wireless broadband network for public safety (FirstNet).  With bipartisan approval in our State Legislature, this FirstNet initiative is now moving forward in Colorado to provide the communications infrastructure that we need to protect public safety.

Criminals are increasingly using sophisticated technology to commit crimes, and identity theft is the fastest growing crime in the United States.  To combat this troubling trend and protect Coloradans’ financial well-being, I will work to provide our law enforcement officers with the latest technological and investigative capabilities to fight computer-based crime.  I will also work with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation to help victims of identity theft get back on their feet and prevent any further harm.  As your next Attorney General, I will continue to look for innovative ways to use technology to protect public safety.

 Supporting Rural Law Enforcement and Prosecutors

Over the last decade, I have gotten to know parts of our state that have very limited law enforcement resources and demand the support of the Attorney General.  I am committed to providing full support for our law enforcement officers and prosecutors in rural areas to secure the safety of every Coloradan.  That’s why the Attorney General’s office has a Major Crimes Unit; that unit was created to support rural Colorado and I will ensure that it used in that manner.

The effectiveness of our criminal justice system as a whole depends on the effectiveness of every one of our judicial districts.  As Dean of the University of Colorado Law School, I collaborated with the Colorado District Attorney’s Council to develop the District Attorney fellowship program to place recent Colorado law graduates in rural district attorney offices in Colorado.  This program encourages exceptional young lawyers to support prosecutors in areas that are under-resourced and underserved.

De-escalating Crisis Situations

When Ken Salazar was our Attorney General, he established a statewide law enforcement training program to ensure that all law enforcement officials were trained effectively.  The Colorado Peace Officer Standards and Training—or “POST” program—continues to be housed in the Attorney General’s office.  POST ensures that Colorado’s public safety officers, including the police, are provided with de-escalation training aimed at reducing the number of violent confrontations between the police and Colorado citizens, and supports building community partnerships based on mutual trust and respect.  Under my leadership, I will work to develop a POST repository of law enforcement officials who are fired for disciplinary violations so that such officers are not later hired by other agencies who don’t know of past misconduct.

Because of Ken Salazar’s visionary leadership, Colorado is one of only a few states to mandate statewide training of law enforcement, and Colorado has taken concrete steps to address the potential for the use of excess force by law enforcement officers.  As we saw in a Toronto interaction earlier this year, when law enforcement officials act to de-escalate interactions, it can make an enormous difference.  And we just recently saw in the tragic death of Antwon Rose, a promising unarmed young black man shot when he was running away from a crime scene, a heartbreaking reminder of the need to address this issue with vigilance and a sense of urgency.

As Attorney General, I will emphasize the importance of trainings aimed at de-escalation, and I will also work to ensure that Colorado’s officers are trained in identifying and responding appropriately to incidents involving individuals with serious mental illness.  Denver, for example, has implemented a successful Co-Responder model where trained mental health professionals are dispatched with police officers to calls involving mentally ill individuals.  This has resulted in safer outcomes for officers and community members, and in appropriate cases, diversion to mental health treatment instead of jail.  By supporting such programs, we will reduce the burden on our criminal justice system and decrease the number of violent episodes that endanger police officers and our communities.

Improving the Justice System
Reforming Cash Bail

As Attorney General, I will ensure that individuals entering the criminal justice system are treated fairly and that their futures are not compromised when not necessary to protect public safety.  Our current system of bail too often keeps people in jail who are not a threat to public safety or a flight risk just because they cannot afford to pay a bail bond.  That’s wrong.  Like other states that have reformed cash bail, we can and must do better by providing individualized assessments, using supervised release programs, and enabling people awaiting trial to live productive lives.  Furthermore, I will support HB 1081, which ensures court notifications—by text message or others means—are sent to those awaiting trial.  By using such a system, we can reduce the population of people incarcerated because they failed to appear in court, often because they forgot about an appointment.  In short, we need leadership on how to reduce the population of our jails, which often holds people who cannot afford bail or who were locked up for forgetting about a court date.

Improving Outcomes for Those Already Incarcerated

Coloradans with criminal convictions struggle to re-enter the workforce, find stable housing, get access to quality health care, and maintain a steady paycheck—challenges that greatly increase the chances that they will be rearrested and re-incarcerated.  As Attorney General, I will lead efforts that focus on reentry into society for those already in the criminal justice system, using the AG’s office to provide statewide leadership on re-entry coordination, as Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring has done.  In addition to substance abuse and mental health treatment programs, inmates need access to job training, apprenticeship opportunities, and educational offerings to help prepare them for life after incarceration, such as those provided by Cross-Purpose, a remarkable community-based program in Denver.  I will work hard to promote and develop such programs to lower the rates of those leaving our jails and prisons ended up re-incarcerated.

Juvenile Justice System Reform:  Prevention and Diversion Opportunities 

The juvenile justice system presents an important opportunity to ask whether and how we can divert individuals from the criminal justice system.  All too often, when individuals enter the criminal justice system as teenagers, they begin a lifelong vicious cycle.  We need to stop the “school to prison pipeline” and instead help all students—regardless of their ethnic, racial, and economic backgrounds— to succeed.  To do that, we must invest in programs that provide productive alternatives to youth during the times when they are most at risk of committing crimes.  And when individuals are arrested as teenagers, we should also evaluate the opportunity to use effective diversion programs, such as outdoor leadership and treatment programs, which can change the trajectory of young lives.

Resisting the Criminalization of Marijuana

Many American inmates are currently incarcerated for nonviolent offenses—frequently drug offenses—that carry harsh and unnecessary minimum sentences.  As a result, we’ve seen a steady expansion of the inmate population, which ultimately fails to make our communities any safer.  In Colorado, by legalizing marijuana, we took an important step away from this approach.

Since marijuana was legalized in Colorado in 2014, communities across the state have put the revenue from marijuana taxation to good use.  Last year, 210 high school seniors in Pueblo received $2,000 each from a cannabis tax-funded scholarship program established by Pueblo County.  Also last year, Governor Hickenlooper signed a bill providing that Colorado’s $105 million in tax revenue from marijuana sales in the 2016-2017 fiscal year would go to a fund supporting housing programs for the homeless, assisting mental health programs in jails, and contributing to health resources at local schools.

As Attorney General, I will work with other leaders in Colorado, as well as with Attorneys General in other states that have legalized marijuana, to fight Attorney General Jeff Session’s hostility to the legalization of marijuana.  The steps we have taken in Colorado to decriminalize marijuana provide an important first step in treating drug use as a public health issue, rather than a criminal justice one.  By providing drug treatment as an alternative to incarceration, we can invest in people living productive lives, thereby avoiding a continuing cycle of incarceration.

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We in Colorado are innovative and pride ourselves on fairness.  In criminal justice policy, we have considerable room for more innovation and a system that is both tough on crime when appropriate and smart about how best to keep our communities safe.  When we allow our criminal justice system to be stripped of empathy—and be divorced of humane solutions—we are not doing justice to the affected individuals or for our society.  Colorado can lead the nation in reforming our criminal justice system so that it serves its intended purpose—keeping people safe—without needlessly destroying lives.  Together, we can work together making Colorado a model for our nation in criminal justice improvement.

 


Vistas, Valleys & Voters: The Western Slope & Yampa Valley

Peaches & Politics: A Week on the Western Slope
A Campaign Staffer Reflects on the Trail with Phil

During our trip to the Western Slope, we ate fifteen peach-related foods. I counted. There was the peach cream cheese at Main Street Bagels (our home away from home in Grand Junction), peach sushi down the street, and peach cider at Talbot Farm’s new distillery. There were dried peaches and fresh peaches, peach maple syrup and peach beer. You’d think we’d get sick of it, but we never did.

On our third road trip of the summer, we head West via Montrose, a county where only 4000 of its 27,000 people are Democrats (that’s 15%). In an evening doubleheader (that is, two events), over 100 Democrats come out to hear Phil speak about his hopes for democracy and his commitment to showing up across the state. In the twilight — over plates of the best peach cobbler any of us have ever eaten — the enthusiasm for his story and hopes for Colorado is tangible.

Grand Junction, the largest city in Western CO, sits nestled beneath a sloping Mesa, only 30 miles from the Utah border. Due to a unique combination of soil and climate in the area, Grand Junction is Colorado’s wine country and a center of Colorado agriculture. On our first day in Grand Junction, we stroll through the farmer’s market, stopping to talk to maple syrup vendors and lavender farmers up and down the bustling street. Phil chats with Lexi for a while, a local whose first election is coming up in November. She’s never voted before, but will this time — I’m forever impressed by the power of individual connections to inspire voter engagement, especially for young people who respond to those running for office looking them in the eye and saying “your vote matters.”

Down the road in Palisade, we meet Bruce. He’s a fifth-generation peach farmer in in the area: his family’s been farming in this area since 1907, and on this exact spot of land — peach orchards in all directions, lined up beneath the mesa —since the 40s. Peaches and grapes are particularly prevalent in this area because of the “Million Dollar Breeze,” which brings a more temperate climate — and the promise of agriculture — from over the slope. Wandering through the orchards, occasionally checking peaches for days until ripeness, Bruce tells us about his involvement in Child & Migrant Services, Inc. and the necessity of treating immigrants fairly. If we fail to treat immigrants fairly and they don’t come here, “we don’t get to farm here anymore,” he says.

In Garfield County, we attend the county parade in Rifle, where we walk with the Garfield County Democrats. What they lack in numbers, they more than make up for in spirit, and we’re welcomed with open arms, signage, and enthusiastic cheers. Horses trot through the parade route, cowboys spiraling their lassoes ahead of us; the local high school’s football and cheerleading teams float through the crowd, treated as local celebrities; Phil rushes through the rope line, sharing literature and handshakes with locals. Despite people’s political leaning, people are open to what Phil has to say, and are impressed that he showed up. There’s no substitute for that simple action: showing up.

In Craig, Colorado — a rural town in Moffat County whose economy relies heavily on local mines and a coal processing facility — we sip lemonade and devour homemade cookies in the park while discussing broadband access. Craig’s hospital does not have reliable broadband–it has a single fiber connection that, when cut, takes down internet access. Craig’s residents are fired up about securing a viable, economic future for the county — one rooted in reliable tourism and entrepreneurship, not coal busts and booms — and they need an Attorney General who can support them in that development.

While in Craig, we hop in the back of Terry, the former mayor’s, pickup truck and head down the road towards the old Trapper Mine. Towers of the coal processing facility spiral above the open swaths of farmland. Terry’s current solar field is modeled after a CoOp system; individuals in the county can buy panels and shares of energy, making it economically viable. The panels are sandwiched between the sewage processing facility and in the shadow of the coal processing facility, but as the wind whips by us, Terry’s easy way of conversation shows us the future.

The Western Slope represents everything that makes Colorado great — an entrepreneurial spirit, fierce independence, commitment to finding innovative and empathetic solutions to difficult issues, beautiful vistas, and kind people. Our conversations in the area proved once more that there’s no substitute for being present across our incredible state.


Press Release: In First Public Debate of the General Election, Phil Weiser Outlines Positive Vision for Protecting Coloradans' Rights as their Attorney General

GRAND JUNCTION, Saturday, September 8 – This evening, Phil Weiser and George Brauchler each made their case to be Colorado’s next Attorney General at a candidate debate hosted by Club 20 in Grand Junction, Colorado. Widely considered the unofficial kickoff of the state’s general election season, it was the first public forum between the two candidates and showcased their substantial differences on topics ranging from broadband access to public health and civil rights, before a lively and engaged audience.

Weiser, often interrupted by applause, outlined how as Attorney General he would lead the way in protecting the rights of all Coloradans. He  clearly laid out an agenda that focused on equal rights for all, ensuring every Coloradan is treated fairly regardless of who they are or where they come from, and for protecting Colorado’s land, air and water.  

Weiser also outlined his vision for an Attorney General’s office that leads with creative solutions in a range of areas affecting all Coloradans. In particular, Weiser spoke of collaborative solutions to problems affecting Western Colorado, including lack of access to broadband, addressing the opioid epidemic by suing irresponsible pharmaceutical companies to fund drug treatment programs, and protecting and preserving Colorado’s water rights.  

Brauchler refused to address how he would approach Roe vs Wade, a top of mind concern following this week’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings. Brauchler reaffirmed his earlier written statement: “I believe the results of the Roe v. Wade opinion are wrong and do not make us a better people. I believe that Roe v. Wade was decided based on a claimed right that was interpreted from—not expressed within—our Constitution.” When asked if as Attorney General he would submit an amicus brief in defense of Roe if that decision were challenged in the Supreme Court, Brauchler said only,  “I’d have to think about that.” In contrast, Weiser has unequivocally proclaimed his support for women’s reproductive rights and has vowed to join Attorneys General around the country to protect a woman’s right to choose.

In short, Weiser presented his positive vision for leadership that stands up for all Coloradans, based on listening to their concerns and using the range of tools in the AG’s office to protect them and their rights.


Press Release: Phil Weiser Campaign Breaks $2 Million Raised in Attorney General Race

With over 1,000 Colorado donors this period, and more than 4,600 overall, Weiser breaks fundraising record for any AG candidate in recent state history

DENVER, Thursday, September 6 – Phil Weiser’s campaign for Attorney General today announced over $347,000 raised in the reporting period between July 28 and August 29, 2018. Weiser’s fundraising total since declaring his candidacy in May 2017 now exceeds $2 million – nearly double the record for total funds raised by a statewide campaign in a non-Gubernatorial race under modern campaign finance laws.

In this reporting period, Weiser reported over 1,000 Colorado donors, bringing the total number of Coloradans who have contributed to the campaign to over 4,600. Weiser heads into September with over $300,000 cash on hand.

Weiser thanked his donors for their sustained support: “I am inspired and humbled by the enthusiasm for this people-powered campaign. The engagement in our campaign continues to build, from record voters in the Democratic primary election, Coloradans showing up at events across  the state, and by the number of volunteers and donors supporting this effort.  Coloradans are looking for an Attorney General who will defend their rights, ensuring that everyone is treated fairly, fighting for equal justice for all, and protecting our land, air, and water. I will be that Attorney General.”

The record for total funds raised by a statewide campaign, for a non-Gubernatorial state race, is the approximately $1.05 million reported by Cary Kennedy’s 2010 campaign for Treasurer.  After the 2002 election cycle, new campaign finance laws were put in place that drastically limited donations. These laws banned corporate contributions and greatly lowered the donation maximum to statewide races.

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Phil Weiser is the Hatfield Professor of Law, Dean Emeritus, and the Founder and Executive Director of the Silicon Flatirons Center for Law, Technology, and Entrepreneurship at the University of Colorado Law School. He served in the Obama Administration as a Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the U.S. Department of Justice and as Senior Advisor for Technology and Innovation at the White House’s National Economic Council. Phil lives with his wife and two children in Denver.


Part 1: Criminal Justice Overview and Priorities

The issue of criminal justice is complex, and it impacts the life of every Coloradan. This blog is the first in a series of three that introduces my priorities and outlines my goals for a system that improves on our current one. In two additional posts, I talk about specific actions my office will take so that we can build a criminal justice system that supports law enforcement, treats people fairly, and keeps our communities safe.

It is essential for the Colorado Attorney General to prioritize the humane and just treatment of all citizens. This includes both victims of crimes and those individuals interacting with law enforcement.  My goal as your next Attorney General is to build trust between law enforcement officers and the communities they serve and to ensure that everyone who interacts with our law enforcement system is treated fairly.

We can do better in how we manage our system of criminal justice.  In particular, we are incarcerating many people—especially young men of color—who do not belong in jail or prison.  Those who are a threat to public safety, such as those who are illegally manufacturing or selling drugs, for example, whether through pill mills, heroin sales, or otherwise, should be held accountable and deterred from continuing to act in violation of the law.  But the individual misuse of opioids (and other drugs) is more properly managed as a public health matter.  In short, we need to make sure that our criminal justice system distinguishes between the sources of illegal drugs and those who use them.  More generally, we should focus on incarcerating criminal drug producers and traffickers while diverting individuals with substance use disorders toward appropriate treatment programs—and we need to fund such programs so alternatives to incarceration exist.

Improving our criminal justice system also means developing data-tested policies for reducing the rates of crime.  One important way to do that is to reduce or eliminate the likelihood that those currently incarcerated will again turn to crime once released by investing in programs with a demonstrated track record of success.  By doing so, we will protect public safety and use our criminal justice resources for the good of all the people of Colorado.

Supporting Colorado’s Law Enforcement and Prosecutors

The Colorado Attorney General’s ability to help protect the public depends—in no small part—on the office’s support for the state’s law enforcement officials, first responders, and prosecutors.  As Attorney General, I will work hard to ensure that our dedicated public servants—in every corner of Colorado—have access to the latest tools, trainings, and technologies that will enable them to respond fairly and effectively to growing threats to the public safety as well as isolated natural or human-caused disasters.  I will also work to support victims and enable them to report crimes, particularly sexual assault or domestic violence, without fear of further harm, humiliation or embarrassment.

The Attorney General plays a significant role in law enforcement statewide.  Colorado Police Officer Standards and Training (POST), which was founded by Ken Salazar, is housed in the Attorney General’s office.  This program is responsible for law enforcement training standards for the entire state.  Whether someone is a cadet for Denver Police Department or the Gunnison Sheriff’s Office, the training requirements come from POST.

Improving an Overburdened Criminal Justice System

Arrest and incarceration are not always the only or the best options for all individuals who come into contact with our criminal justice system.  As noted above, for example, some diversion approaches—such as drug treatment options—can be more humane and more effective in protecting public safety.  As Attorney General, I will strongly support alternatives to arrest and incarceration for individuals who would be better served by mental health services, substance abuse treatment programs, or other community resources.  To support this direction, I will stand up to Jeff Sessions’ agenda to recriminalize marijuana.  In short, we need to be tough on crime where appropriate as well as be smarter about how we approach public health and criminal justice.

Building Statewide Cooperation and Coalitions

The Attorney General has the authority to prosecute cases that cross county and jurisdictional lines.  The office is uniquely situated to lead the effort on crimes that often cross borders, including human trafficking and large-scale drug operations. In practice, this means that the Attorney General’s office teams up with local District Attorneys to work on these cases across the state.  The Attorney General cannot and should not seek to be a “King DA”; our Attorney General needs to be a collaborator with local DA offices, partnering with them and providing them with the support they need to be successful.

Becoming a National Example of Innovation

As Attorney General, I will work to drive meaningful criminal justice improvements and data-tested innovations.  I will, for example, support experiments like the Transforming Safety initiative (which is designed to keep communities safer without incarcerating as many people), the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program (which moves low-level offenders into diversion programs outside the criminal justice system), and Defy Ventures (which prepares inmates through entrepreneurial training for lives after their release that do not include a return to crime).  For all such cases, we can and should test what works, putting more energy and resources behind proven programs.  If we can pull together and develop more effective strategies for reducing incarceration, we can at once keep people safe, treat victims of crime respectfully, and build trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve.

Emphasizing the Fair and Humane Treatment of all Coloradans

Ensuring that all those who interact with law enforcement and the criminal justice system are treated fairly and with dignity is crucial to keeping Coloradans safe.  It is important that we honor our Victims’ Rights Act and support victims during the legal process.  It is also important that we use our jails appropriately, not escalating situations unnecessarily to result in arrests or holding people in jail when they are not a threat to the public. Alternatives to incarceration must be developed and implemented, particularly those enabled by technology.  As Attorney General, I will take a tough, but smart, approach to law enforcement, treating every Coloradan with humanity and respect.

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We in Colorado are innovative and pride ourselves on fairness.  In criminal justice policy, we have considerable room for more innovation and a system that is both tough on crime when appropriate and smart about how best to keep our communities safe.  When we allow our criminal justice system to be stripped of empathy—and be divorced of humane solutions—we are not doing justice to the affected individuals or for our society.  Colorado can lead the nation in reforming our criminal justice system so that it serves its intended purpose—keeping people safe—without needlessly destroying lives.  Together, we can work together making Colorado a model for our nation in criminal justice improvement.

 


Vistas, Valleys & Voters: Southeastern Colorado & The San Luis Valley

Vistas, Valleys & Voters: A Campaign Staffer Reflects on the Trail with Phil
A Portrait of Southeastern Colorado

Two-lane Colorado 96 runs east for what seems like endless prairie, snaking its way through abandoned railroad towns and places that haven’t seen bust or boom since the coal mining days. An old sign points to a Fairground. A rusty, abandoned mill floats by us. A sign, flanked by iron horses, welcomes us to Ordway.

Conestoga Park has a playground that wouldn’t look out of place in suburban Denver, and a new skateboarding course. A sign outside Crowley County High School tells us it’s 102 degrees. The shade of scrubby elm trees doesn’t do much for the late July heat, but Joe Zemba, the chair of the local democratic party — there are only 432 registered democrats in Crowley County — greets us with cool drinks and a warm smile.

Over plates of coleslaw and burgers fresh off the grill, Joe tells us the story of Crowley County. Phil actually starts telling the story, as he visited Crowley County earlier — perhaps the only statewide candidate in memory to visit here twice during a campaign. It is a cautionary tale. In the 1970s, Crowley County sold its water rights and, unlike the neighboring counties, has no agriculture here. Now, prisons — one state, one private — are its main source of employment, and they loom out of the grasslands like isolated pockets of civilization on the road to Ordway.

John Stulp meets us at the end of the barbecue for a water tour of Crowley; he’s a wheat farmer, a former Prowers County Commissioner, and Governor Hickenlooper’s water advisor. He looks at ease in suspenders and a cowboy hat. I ride in the back of his pickup, Phil in the front seat, as he shows us places that used to be farms, now dry brown patches of dirt that haven’t hydrated since the late 70s when the county sold off its rights to the already-sparse irrigation ditches near the Arkansas River. Now, the county’s second-largest source of jobs — the local feedlots — has to import even the crops to feed its cattle, which are sent to Kansas for slaughter.

At Knapp’s farmstand, right on the edge of an irrigated area over the Otero county-line, the smell of melon fills the air along with country music and the excited chattering of customers. We buy cantaloupe and cans of diet coke and drink in the green before it’s back in the truck, and the country music fades away in a cloud of tractor dust on the road behind us.

While we’re on the road, Conservation Colorado endorses Phil, so we visit Lathrop State Park, just outside of Walsenburg, to say why. The sun is setting as we arrive. My writing teachers tell me “golden hour” is a cliche, but there’s no other way to describe it. Golden doesn’t just encapsulate the light, yellow and clean, streaming through storm clouds on the Eastern plains, but the feeling, too — that everything is possible, bathed in that late-day glow when everything feels like buzzing and laziness all at once. There’s a hovering moment between work and more work that Phil picks up a stone, and skips it across the lake, the reflection of the Spanish Peaks rippling as the stone jumps across the water. The campaign team stands on the shore and skips stones for a few minutes, watching those last bits of golden hour glint out over the horizon.

The next morning, after coffee in a cheerful storefront in La Veta, our new friends Sam and Deb take us to Uptop, Colorado. En route, victims of the Spring Fire — burnt aspen trees and ashe on the ground — roll across the hills for as far as we can see. Folks here call Uptop a ghost town, but this place feels alive. And it was just saved because a dedicated team of local firefighters committed themselves to saving it during the fire. Uptop remains a peaceful reminder of the American West’s fierce, independent spirit.

During a Meet & Greet at Milagro’s in Alamosa, we talk to Honey. Honey’s daughter has a rare and life-threatening condition that, at the time of her birth, was the only case in Colorado. After almost losing their house as they sought to care for their daughter, Honey’s family now relies on the protection for those with pre-existing conditions guaranteed by the Affordable Care Act, and lives in fear of what would happen if this protection–and her health insurance–was taken away.

That night, down the road in Canon City, a one-hour event dissolves into two with deceptive ease. We share stories over Italian food, and I’m struck once more by what it means for Phil to come here, and listen to the people who tell us their stories, asking for a public official that can help. “There are some of us in this community who see the barn burning and are not afraid to go and say ‘hey, the barn is burning.’ The kind of courage is rare, and I am seeing it more and more,” Jeri — her eyes alight with the promise of another fight, another election cycle — says. We need an Attorney General who will have their backs.

In Pueblo, we talk about opioids. That’s much of what we’ve talked about on the road this time, as studies show that opioid overdoses affect Southeastern Colorado significantly more than other areas of the state. At every interval on this trip — in coffee shops with Honey, on water tours with John, over hamburgers with Joe — I have learned something about the crucial role an AG can play to make the lives of all Coloradans better, but hardly has it been so obvious as during a roundtable on opioids here in Pueblo. We hear stories of overdoses and irresponsible drug companies; bureaucratic red tape and overcrowded prisons; pleas for empathy and the way this epidemic ravages families, communities, and the state at large. Phil listens, intently, and continues to do so at Meet & Greets and over lunch and at every campaign stop.

Rural Colorado is warm and friendly, brave and stunning. I think about Sam and Deb back in Uptop as we arrive home to the Front Range. “We’re beginning to understand just how much an Attorney General can do for the health of our little community here, for the environment of our little community, for the prospects of our little community,” they said. “The rural people can’t be forgotten: we love Colorado.”


Vice President Biden Endorses Phil Weiser

“Phil Weiser is a true innovator and dedicated public servant. We need more people like Phil in public office and that’s why I am proud to join President Barack Obama in my endorsement. I’ve seen firsthand his commitment to the values that make Colorado a leader in protecting our land, air, and water, and building a clean energy future. The people of Colorado deserve an Attorney General like Phil to protect those values, fight for hard-working Americans, and ensure that everyone is treated fairly and with equal justice under the law.”

– Joe Biden, Former Vice President of the United States

What I Learned from Joe Biden

Working with Vice President Joe Biden in the Obama White House was a highlight of my career.  His approach to public policy taught me the importance of understanding issues from the perspective of hard-working people — from farmers to police officers to family members.  Vice President Biden always sought to ensure we developed policies that are fair and easy to understand.  I continue to admire his deep and genuine interest in people, which makes him such an outstanding and highly respected public servant.

Vice President Biden oversaw the Recovery Act, which included working to promote broadband deployment across the United States, encouraging energy innovation, and building an interoperable wireless broadband network for first responders.  I had the great opportunity to spearhead the broadband initiative with the VP’s office, and under his leadership, we brought a sense of urgency and valuable human element to the mission — focusing on the police officer or firefighter whose life could be saved by such a network.

The Vice President was famous for asking “how would I explain this to my grandmother?” – something I could easily relate to. When I joined Vice President Biden on stage in Colorado to highlight our state as a center of energy innovation, he asked me how he could explain the importance of energy innovation to his grandmother.

Like Vice President Biden, I often think of my grandmother, who I called Bubby. Indeed, my Bubby, like Vice President Biden, was positive and resilient in her disposition.  She believed in a better future, and as an immigrant to the United States, she deeply appreciated what our country stands for—treating everyone equally and being fair to all.  Those are the values Vice President Biden stands for, my family stands for, and the very values that are at the heart of my campaign.  I am honored to have the support and endorsement of Vice President Biden – one of our country’s most inspiring leaders.


Our Next Attorney General Must Take Action to Address Colorado’s Opioid Epidemic

Across our state, the opioid epidemic is destroying lives and ripping families apart.  On average, another Coloradan dies from an opioid overdose every 17 hours. In 2016, across the whole country, more people died of drug overdoses—the vast majority of which were from opioids—than American casualties in the Vietnam and Iraq Wars combined.  All across our state, Coloradans are becoming dependent on opioids and dying from overdoses.  And, in many cases, we are responding to this crisis by putting opioid users in jail.  We need to do better.

The essence of the opioid crisis was described by Jason Chippeaux, COO of Health Solutions, “the crisis is a wildfire with zero containment — growing, but lacking unified command. In the meantime, people are dying.”  He added that “it will not be a single silver bullet; it will be a multi-faceted solution” to address the crisis.  I agree.  Today’s crisis has many causes, and calls for innovative and compassionate responses.

As our next Attorney General, I will address the opioid epidemic by approaching it as a public health crisis.  While punishing drug dealers is appropriate, the jailing of opioid users—now widespread in Colorado—is harsh and ineffective.  We need our leaders across state and local government to use a range of innovative strategies to support drug treatment options.  And we also need to work to decrease the likelihood that people become dependent on opioids in the first place.

A critical first step in addressing the crisis is to hold accountable the pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors who encouraged the use of opioids—even though they knew the risks they posed.  In too many cases, an oversupply of these drugs found their way into the market—sold illegally by drug dealers and pill mills.  An initial response — which is important, but inadequate to wholly address this crisis — is to hold these drug dealers accountable for their unlawful behavior.  Also, we must try to understand the impact of the availability of legal cannabis, which, according to a preliminary study, may be providing an alternative source of pain management and may be associated with a reduction in the number of opioid-related deaths by 6.5 percent since 2015.

Under the leadership of our Governor, Colorado has taken some key steps to reduce the likelihood of individuals becoming dependent on opioids.  Colorado has recently restricted access to opioids under its Medicaid program and has established locations where people can safely dispose of unused opioids.  We are also—and must continue to step up—training our first responders on how to use the overdose-reversing drug naloxone.

Holding Pharmaceutical Companies Responsible

Over the last 20 years, the increased access to opioids was highly profitable for many pharmaceutical companies (as explained in this article.)  In Colorado, we saw a 100 percent increase in the number of opioid prescriptions between 1999 and 2016.  And during that time, the number of overdoses also went up drastically: over 200 percent by 2014.

As the Washington Post reported, a number of distributors didn’t take the Drug Enforcement Agency’s efforts seriously. They went to Congress to override the DEA’s authority to regulate this dangerous behavior. Thankfully, a number of State Attorneys General’s offices have either opened investigations or brought actions against these companies for distributing opioids that they knew or should have known would end up creating dependencies and/or end up in the hands of drug dealers.  Similarly, a number of Colorado counties, including Denver, Huerfano, and Pueblo have already filed suit.  And for good reason—companies like Purdue Pharma knowingly lied to patients, leading them to take opioids and destroying lives in the process.  As Attorney General, I will take action to hold these companies accountable.  After we win this lawsuit, Colorado will receive financial support that it can use to support drug treatment, which is an important part of addressing this crisis.

Addressing Illegal Drug Trafficking

We must hold those engaging in illegal drug trafficking accountable.  From 2011-15, the amount of heroin seized annually in Colorado rose over 2,000% as the number of heroin-related deaths more than doubled. As Attorney General, I will investigate and prosecute bad actors in the prescription opioid supply chain, and collaborate with local, state, and federal law enforcement to punish those making money by selling such dangerous drugs.  The Attorney General’s Office can support the prosecution of drug dealers by assisting rural counties in investigating, prosecuting, and preventing the manufacturing, trafficking, and distribution of opioids.  Finally, we need to oversee the opioid supply chain, ensuring that excess amounts of opioids are not allowed to be diverted to illegal uses.  One way to do that, as piloted in other states, is providing collection points for people to drop off—and have destroyed—unused pills.

Moving to a Public Health Model

For those who are using and addicted to opioids, the essence of a public health mindset is to evaluate how to approach opioid users with an eye toward providing treatment opportunities, not a jail sentence.  Under the Governmental Entrepreneurial Leadership Accelerator program I founded, a team developed a model for reaching out to opioid users who congregate in the Denver Public Library.   This team, which had two law enforcement officials on it, developed a strategy for pairing a police officer with a mental health professional.

We need to encourage experimentation and innovation around the state in addressing opioid use.  Consider, for example, the Longmont Department of Public Safety now supports the Police-Assisted Addiction Recovery Initiative, which connects low-level offenders with law enforcement officers specially trained to help them obtain treatment.  In Pueblo and Alamosa, the communities have received Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) grants, enabling case workers to work with opioid users as an alternative to incarceration.   For Alamosa, this response is critical because of the acute overcrowding in its jail, over 90% of whom are opioid users.  As Attorney General, I will work hard to encourage best practice and support intiatives around the state who are responding to the crisis with innovative solutions (such as IT MATTRs).

A number of communities in Colorado have developed drug courts, enabling those abusing opioids to get the help they need rather than face a prison sentence.  As Attorney General, I will work with leaders around the State—including our District Attorneys, County Sheriffs, public health officials, and mental health professionals to encourage diversion efforts to drug treatment as opposed to criminal sentences wherever possible.  I will also seek to bring drug treatment and mental health services to jails and prisons for those who present a threat to society or have committed serious crimes and need treatment.

Providing Support for Drug Treatment

As our next Attorney General, I will support drug treatment through a multi-faceted approach. In addition to obtaining money from successful suits against pharmaceutical companies, I will work to protect the Affordable Care Act, which provides some Medicaid-funded treatment options for people who are dependent on opioids.  I will also work to strengthen Medicaid, providing more support for those in drug treatment.  I will take steps to make sure that insurance companies support drug treatment, and I will ensure that they do not defy federal laws that require them to provide parity in access to life-saving substance abuse treatment.  Finally, we need to develop ongoing peer support and other programs beyond intensive 2 month programs because, as Judy Solano, the Executive Director of the Southern Colorado Harm Reduction Association explained, it takes 6-12 months for the addicted brain to heal and truly rewire itself.

Cutting Through Bureaucratic Red Tape

When clinicians seek to create centers where patients can be treated for opioid addiction, they frequently encounter bureaucratic obstacles that leave healthcare professionals frustrated and patients without critical care. As Attorney General, I will work to simplify the permitting process, prioritize responsiveness, and ensure that care providers have access to efficient customer service and transparent information.  One clinician I spoke to in Crowley County told me of his experience with red tape while attempting to open a treatment clinic.  This is unacceptable and we need a sense of urgency on this issue.  I will bring that mindset and work to create a fast-track licensing system.

Few issues involve the trauma and raw emotion of the opioid epidemic.  In many groups I speak with, a large number of those in the room are directly affected by this crisis, with family members’ dependent on opioids or a casualty of an overdose.  We need our next Attorney General to make this issue a top priority, collaborating with leaders across our state to hold the pharmaceutical companies accountable for their part in this crisis, working effectively to punish drug dealers, and treating those dependent on opioids with a public health mindset.  That’s why creating and supporting drug treatment opportunities will be a central goal of my leadership on this issue.

This post, originally written in January of 2018, was revised in August of 2018 based on a roundtable discussion of community leaders hosted by Action 22 in Pueblo in July of 2018. 


Vistas, Valleys & Voters: Roaring Fork Valley & the High Country

Vistas Valleys & Voters: A Campaign Staffer Reflects on the Trail with Phil
A Family Road Trip to the Roaring Fork Valley

The front range dissolves into granite and pine as the altimeter counts up. The minivan, packed with yard-signs and literature and cameras, rumbles through the Eisenhower tunnel, the gentle tap tap tapping of keyboards ticking through the miles. Paola, ever-cheerful, drives, Phil working in the front seat. Jono, the photographer, snaps photos of the byways. Sammy, Phil’s 10-year-old son, occasionally leans forward to ask us for help on iPad word games. It’s a family road trip, with a purpose.

In Edwards, we talk to Gerry, who’s soft-spoken and articulate. We sit on a fountain outside an ice cream shop just off the highway, discussing Eagle’s marijuana tax that funds mental health resources, and what an Attorney General can do to ensure that the revenue goes to the right places. Ice cream melts in the early-evening heat, and a group of curious people stop to share their first political memory, ask questions, tell stories, and have a conversation about what an Attorney General can do for Eagle county. I suddenly grasp what it means for Phil to come here and listen to these stories.

The next day, our morning in Garfield starts at the Bluebird Cafe. Matt greets us with coffee and the kind of easy-going laugh that only comes from living in the mountains. We get to talking about the Opioid crisis in this area. “When somebody has any other kind of disease we don’t throw them in jail,” he points out. “We throw them in a hospital.”

These days, people think politics is all lies and spite, all campaigns and mysterious donations that come from somewhere else. At the coffee shop in Garfield county, it’s about the people who show up, tell stories, and listen. We can see the midterms — and elections in general — as a fight. But elections also offer people a chance to talk about the things that go unnoticed in the day-to-day of news cycles and Twitter exchanges. And stops like this give Phil an opportunity to listen and learn from people around the state. On this day, in Garfield county, I witnessed real empathy in politics.

Down the road in Carbondale, we don’t see the fires, but we can smell them, a faint haze of smoke clinging to the county like a sinister reminder of a threat barely kept at bay. Mount Sopris, nearly 13,000 feet into the sky, looms over us. Here, we talk about immigration, and there’s fear in every story; fear of the end of DACA, fear of a government in D.C., and fear of being separated from one’s families. Maria, an immigrant worker, tells me “we are looking for the right person who can fight for our rights…we are here to work and to do something good for our children, and we only want an opportunity to show them that we are looking for a safer place to live.”

That evening, driving out of the mountains and back to the front-range, I can see the Sawtooth of Mount Evans silhouetted against the deepening blue of twilight. Last time I drove this road, it was to scale that mountain; this time, it’s for an equally big climb, but one that finds us with more than a view at the end.

On the trip, we learned about opioids and immigration, taxes and the power of empathy in politics–and the importance of a good team. The line that runs through my head all night on the way back to Denver is from The West Wing: “Decisions are made by those who show up.” Thank you to the people who showed up for us in the Roaring Fork Valley.