Colorado lawmakers introduce sweeping law enforcement changes

State

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. –– Protestors and demonstrations across the United States have demanded action and justice in response to the death of George Floyd, the black man killed in police custody.

In Colorado, Democratic lawmakers introduced Senate Bill 20-217, the Enhancing Police Integrity Act. The act proposes wide-ranging changes in how law enforcement officers conduct their jobs in relation to use of force, bias, and the punishments.

Some of the changes were spurred by the shooting death of De’Von Bailey in Colorado Springs last year.

Bailey, an armed 19-year-old, was shot several times in the back as he ran from officers who were responding to an armed robbery. The officers were cleared on the basis of the “fleeing felon” justification in Colorado law, combined with the 1980s Supreme Court case Gardner v. Tennessee.

It gives law enforcement the authority to shoot someone as they run away if they are a suspected felon and the officer thinks they are armed.

“Unless the officer is in imminent danger, which of course if an officer is in imminent danger they should be able to protect themselves and the community, but unless that happens they have no authority to shoot someone in the back,” said Rep. Leslie Herrod, a Democrat representing Denver who grew up in Colorado Springs.

Herrod said she worked with Rep. Tony Exum, a Democrat representing Colorado Springs, to find ways that would have prevented Bailey’s death.

The Colorado District Attorneys’ Council supports many pieces of the bill, including eliminating chokeholds, increasing the use of body cameras, and statewide data collection.

“These changes in law can happen in the next week if legislators will come together on these issues with bipartisan support,” the organization said in a statement.

The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office is supportive of the intent of the legislation, and is indifferent to this specific part.

“Every time there is a change in state statute and especially those that are restricting what we’ve originally trained our deputies with, there is a fear that it can cause failure to act,” said Janet Huffor, the chief of staff and legislative liaison for the EPCSO.

Law enforcement officers who are found guilty, plead guilty, or plead no contest for inappropriate use of physical force, or failure to stop another officer from doing so, would immediately lose their job and permanently lose their Peace Officer Standards and Training certification.

Currently, officers are required to report when they see excessive use of force, not to stop it.

“If you have integrity and accountability for the entire force, then it protects the integrity of the entire department,” said Exum.

The EPCSO says that move could help rid bad actors out of the system.

“It is not uncommon for someone to be fired from a larger agency or they may resign in lieu of termination or resign while under investigation and then go be hired by another smaller agency who may not be as concerned with what their background is,” said Huffor.

The bill calls for a greater amount of data be collected for an annual report to document the fatal instances of use of force, all instances when an officer resigns while under investigation, data from stops by officers, and data of unannounced entry by state and local agencies. Officers would need to report the justification of each stop they make with their department.

Officers would also report the perceived demographic data of people they contact as well.

“It allows us as a community to know what the culture of policing is. It’s not enough to just collect crime statistics. We have to know how our officers are behaving on the job.” said Dr. Stephany Rose Spaulding, the Chair of the Women’s and Ethnic Studies program at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs.

Rose Spaulding called for changes after Bailey was killed last March.

The EPCSO is concerned about the bill forcing unfunded mandates on departments, particularly smaller ones, which often have smaller budgets.

For example, body camera videos would be needed for every officer, and all recordings would have to be released within 14 days. That turnaround, Huffor said, is not enough time. She also worries about exceptions for undercover officers and would like to see redactions in some videos.

“We want to make sure that the body cam footage that we are able to protect the rights of victims that are within that,” Huffor said.

The office also says it costs $1,000 per year per officer for body cameras, leaving their cost around half a million dollars.

Rose Spaulding is happy to see steps in the right direction, though she will keep advocating for more change.

“These measures are extremely important in changing the culture of policing in our country,” she said. “We have to do more in demilitarizing our police force and making sure they understand they are officers of the peace. That peace part is so important.”

June 9 Update: The Senate has passed SB20-217 on a vote of 33-0 with two abstentions. The version passed has amendments to protect the identity of victims in body camera videos disclosed to the public.

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