Arapahoe County voters signal appetite for restorative justice after Brown is reelected sheriff

Focus to stay on alternate policing, mental health

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In an election cycle mired in debate over a perception of rising crime, Republican candidates hoped to galvanize voters with allegations of mismanaged criminal policy under Democrats.

In the race for Arapahoe County sheriff, Republican candidate Kevin Edling highlighted that narrative in his bid to unseat Democratic incumbent Tyler Brown. But the message didn't seem to resonate with voters. 

“It turns out I’m running in a very blue county in a very blue state,” said Edling, a former command officer for the Denver Police Department. “I knew that we were the underdog going out the gate. I definitely thought voters would take more consideration of qualification and experience than I think showed in this race.”

With more than 55% of the vote, Brown cruised to reelection, which he called a testament to his office’s current practices. Brown campaigned on more resources for mental health and a need to divert some offenders away from incarceration while taking more hard-line policies on issues such as fentanyl. 

“I think it says that they like the things that we’ve implemented to this point,” Brown said. “It’s an endorsement to ‘hey look, we think we’re on the right path, we need to keep going."

Kristin Mallory Westerberg, chair for the Arapahoe County Democratic Party, said Brown’s message of addressing crime while bringing empathy to policies is a sticking point for voters.

“I think that that resonates because essentially we have two options with crime: we can continue to punish people or we can rehabilitate people,” Westerberg said. “Tyler showed leadership on continuing to rehabilitate people."

Westerberg said Republicans messaging around crime was “fear mongering” and said, “the other side tried to make things scarier than they actually are.”

Edling said he expected issues of crime “would've had a bigger impact for sure on the election in general” but said Brown’s win has more to do with Democrat voters outnumbering Republicans in the county.

“I think it comes down to party and it comes down to math,” he said. 

First elected in 2019, Brown is set to serve four more years as county sheriff, eyeing alternative policing and stronger community resources as a priority.

Under his tenure, Brown implemented co-responder programs to the county sheriff’s office, which pair officers with mental health clinicians when responding to certain calls to deescalate situations and provide nonpunitive responses.

Brown also introduced therapy dogs in schools to accompany safety officers, a move he said strengthens trust between officers and students. 

“(Officers) are not just an enforcement arm at the school, we’ve really tried to commit to deterring people from the criminal justice system, especially our youth,” Brown said. 

With his reelection, county voters appeared to signal approval for Brown’s approach of more restorative justice. While Edling also voiced support for such practices, he staked much of his campaign on changing the status quo of the sheriff’s office, which he said lacked policies to hold criminals accountable. 

“Why are we seeing such a huge increase in auto theft?” Edling questioned during his campaign. “Today, much of the metro area has a no chase policy for auto theft. The accountability issue is what’s missing … if you do nothing and don’t hold people accountable, you’re going to continue to see it.”

As sheriff, Brown said he has “not always been in lock step” with his party, which saw some lawmakers protest the harsher penalties in the state fentanyl law. Ultimately, he said, he has run as a candidate driven by solutions, not partisanship. 

“This really comes down to not a partisan race, it comes down to public safety,” Brown said. “We don’t ask whether you’re Democrat or Republican when you call 911. We’re just going to solve your issue.”

As Brown looks to his next four years, he said an immediate focus for his office will be hiring more officers, particularly deputy sheriffs, across the department. He estimates the sheriff’s office needs to fill between 45 and 50 positions across the roughly 500-person staff of sworn officers. Brown said he will also help oversee the creation of a new mental and behavioral health building at the county jail, which county commissioners approved as part of their 2025 budget and which Brown said should begin with a groundbreaking in the next 6 to 8 months.

tyler brown, kevin edling, arapahoe county, arapahoe county sheriff, crime, election 2022

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