Ordinance introduced at Pueblo City Council would mandate jail time for some shoplifters

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Pueblo City Council introduced an ordinance on Monday that would amend city code and mandate jail time for people who steal merchandise worth $300 or more.

The ordinance, introduced by City Council President Heather Graham, would require a person convicted of theft or theft from a merchant to spend no more than three days in Pueblo County jail if the property stolen meets or exceeds that amount. It would also add a mandatory jail stay for people who are considered “habitual offenders” of theft-related offenses, meaning someone who is twice more convicted of the same offense within five years of a first conviction.

No part of the ordinance would apply to juvenile convictions.

Graham in January told the Chieftain she wanted to introduce the ordinance as a way to “deter” people from committing theft and property damage, actions she feels have been a persistent issue in Pueblo.

“I don’t think it’s the intention of (people between) 18 and 30 years old to have a life of crime,” Graham said. “I think they do it because they know they can get away with it. Maybe spending a few nights in jail is what they need to get back on track.”

According to Pueblo's municipal code, theft from a merchant and theft are Class 2 municipal offenses punishable by a fine of no more than $1,000. The proposed amendment would upgrade those types of actions to Class 1 municipal offenses, which also carry that fine, if a person steals merchandise that is worth $300 or more.

That distinction opens the door for the three-day jail stay because Class 1 offenses, unlike Class 2 offenses, can come with a punishment of jail time.

The ordinance would not change a judge’s ability to impose alternate sentences, including options like in-home detention, probation, community service, rehabilitation or educational classes, among others.

More: Pueblo city council president wants mandatory jail time for shoplifters

Graham said a district judge she spoke with told her they’d like to keep that flexibility if the ordinance passes so sentences can be administered accordingly. For instance, if someone who commits the offense is dealing with a mental health issue, another option can be pursued rather than mandating jail time.

The ordinance comes with a sunset provision, dated for Jan. 1, 2025. At that point, city council could extend the provision or let it expire.

In its background paper of the ordinance, the city cited statistics from the Pueblo Police Department that showed 460 people in 2022 were cited for stealing from a merchant, an increase from 283 the year before.

Nearly 40 people in 2022 were cited for theft, which was in increase from 29 in 2021, according to the data.

Graham owns Ruby’s wine bar and both locations of the restaurant Graham's Grill. The northside Graham’s Grill was damaged multiple times last year after people broke in, Graham said, forcing her to incur thousands of dollars in costs to replace equipment and other items.

“Small business owners are ready to pack up and leave Pueblo because they’re so frustrated about the crime and constant trouble they’re facing,” Graham said in January.

Graham also said she thinks the ordinance would keep people from becoming repeat theft offenders because they would be aware they’d face jail time and not just a fine if convicted.

Aurora City Council last year passed a similar ordinance, which was criticized by some city leaders there.

Those opposed felt mandating jail time wouldn't deter crime and that other solutions such as diversion and prevention programs would be more effective and cost friendly, the Aurora Sentinel reported.

The Sentinel also reported that those in favor of the ordinance felt it was time to support business owners who had been victims of theft.

Pueblo City Council members on April 10 are expected to discuss the ordinance during a regular meeting.

Chieftain reporter Josue Perez can be reached at JHPerez@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @josuepwrites.

This article originally appeared on The Pueblo Chieftain: City Council proposal would mandate jail time for Pueblo shoplifters