As Crime Rates Jump, Erie Mayoral and Town Council Candidates Focus on Lawbreaking

By Matt Connelly
As Crime Rates Jump, Erie Mayoral and Town Council Candidates Focus on Lawbreaking

Zuniga, Kenward, Haverkate run on a platform of supporting the police and keeping neighborhoods safe

With crime rates spiking across the Denver metro area, political races of all varieties are becoming more and more a referendum on which candidates more strongly support law enforcement and which is most focused on reducing the threat of violence and crime.

Only two years after some local, state and national Democrats were demanding policies to “defund the police,” Colorado voters now seem focused on the exact opposite: which candidate will support the police and crack down on crime? It is a remarkable turn of events.  

An election in the Democratic bastion of Aurora last year was consumed by an argument over what to do about crime.  In that election, a slate of pro-law enforcement candidates won easily, handing progressives and Democrats a real setback in a city where they are numerically superior.

Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman and a majority of pro-law enforcement candidates now control the Aurora City Council. Coffman and the Council have taken their mandate seriously, by passing measures to address homelessness, property theft, and violence.

In the town of Erie, a liberal town nestled right on the border between Boulder and Weld Counties, a group of candidates running in the April 5 elections for mayor and town Trustee (Erie’s equivalent to city council) are testing the thesis that crime matters. 

One candidate for mayor, and two for Town Trustee, have leaned into their support for law enforcement and made it a strong pillar of their campaigns. Kelly Zuniga, a candidate for Mayor, and Ryan Kenward and Jeff Haverkate, candidates for Trustee seats, all have expressed their support for law enforcement officers on social media and their campaign websites.

“If elected … I will support our law enforcement who work so bravely to keep our neighborhoods safe,” writes Haverkate on his campaign site. “And I will work to find ways the town can be more fiscally responsible, and better prepared for the future.”

Kenward similarly echoes these sentiments, posting a “Thin Blue Line” flag on his website, which reads in part, “We will work with law enforcement to ensure they have the resources and support they need to bring our safety ranking back to #1. Our focus is ensuring that Erie truly is the best place for you and your families. Our town will always stand firmly behind those that protect us.” 

Zuniga is has noted that she is supported by former Erie Police Chief John Hall, and has emphasized rising property crime in Erie as an issue in her campaign, and advocates for “supporting our local police force with the resources and direction they require to be able to protect our neighborhoods.”

All three candidates are also supported by Town Trustee Brandon Bell, a prominent supporter of law enforcement in Erie.

While still a relatively safe area, Erie slid several places on SafeWise’s 2022 ranking of Colorado cities by public safety. As of 2022, Erie no longer ranks in the top-ten safest cities. Violent crime is nearly double that of Firestone, while property crime in Erie has risen considerably since 2021.

Several other candidates opposing Zuniga, Haverkate, and Kenward downplay or outright deny that crime rates are rising. Incumbent Trustee and candidate Christiaan Van Woudenberg dedicates an issues page on his website dated March 2, 2022, to arguing that violent and property crime concerns in Erie are overblown, and that concerns around murder “really doesn’t apply to us.”

Meanwhile, Mayoral Candidate Justin Brooks praises the Erie Police department for their work to add non-criminal options for crisis calls, but stops short of advocating for increasing resources to the department or acknowledging any recent increase in crime. He also touts his work as Team Lead for the Erie Police Directives Task Force, bringing “transparency, accountability and service” to the Erie Police Department.

Trustee candidates Andrew Sawusch, Dan Hoback, and Emily Baer do not appear to list crime or law enforcement as topics under their issue pages.

For his part, Van Woudenberg goes to lengths to downplay the fact that crime matters much at all in Erie. His states on his website that, “It’s frustrating to see news reports that rank Colorado as the number one state in the nation for car theft, or that there was a significant spike in crime for 2020. A mayoral candidate asserts that Erie is a place where “criminals break into your car, steal packages from your porch, and vandalize your property.” But is crime in Erie really that bad?” Van Woudenberg goes on to discuss the police department’s response without addressing the increases in the above statistics directly.

Erie’s election is this Tuesday, April 5.


About the Author:

Matt Connelly is the Founder of Campfire Colorado and Campfire Media.