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Amid protests, Colorado lawmakers introduce bill to address police use of force policies

Amid protests, Colorado lawmakers introduce bill to address police use of force policies
Posted at 6:52 PM, Jun 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-04 12:27:58-04

DENVER — A bill to add more accountability to law enforcement agencies was introduced in the Colorado state senate late Wednesday afternoon.

Senate Bill 20-217, otherwise known as the Enhance Law Enforcement Integrity Act, is 16 pages and touches on everything from liability to the use of chokeholds.

It has already been sponsored by 19 Democratic senators and 42 Democratic representatives. It was unveiled on the steps of the Colorado state capitol Tuesday, but the 25-page draft was shortened significantly overnight.

Among other things, the formal version of the bill:

-Requires the use of body-worn cameras for all local law enforcement agencies
-Requires the release of body camera footage from incidents to be released within 14 days
-Requires the division of criminal justice in the department of public safety to create an annual report about uses of force, stops and unannounced entries
-Requires the division of criminal justice shall maintain a statewide database with data collected in a searchable format
-Requires law enforcement agencies to fire officers who plead guilty to inappropriate uses of force and for their certification to be revoked
-Removes qualified indemnity and good faith justifications for protection from civil action
-Changes the state’s fleeing felon rules to match the U.S. Supreme Court findings

As the bill was being introduced, Rep. Leslie Herod, who was the driving force behind the bill, watched from the balcony of the Senate gallery along with representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union and the lawyer representing Devon Bailey’s family.

Republicans say they want to work with Democrats on the bill to find a way forward.

“Currently, the bill is so big if this was a normal session it would have been divided up into five or six or seven bills and debated over months of time,” said Sage Naumann, the communication director for the Senate Republican caucus. “The first thing that comes to mind is wow this is a lot at once, which is fine. We’re willing to take on a big task.”

Naumann said Republican senators have been speaking with as many stakeholders as possible from the law enforcement community over the past 24 hours to get a grasp on the effects of the bill.

They are looking forward to discussions about parts of the bill surrounding the use of chokeholds but said there are some things they are not quite sure how policies would be implemented.

A major reason for that comes down to money; not only is the state facing a serious budget shortfall, but local law enforcement agencies are also feeling the fiscal pinch. Parts of the bill surrounding data collection and the implementation of body cameras put the financial burden on law enforcement agencies.

“There’s a lot in the bill about data collection. Data is something we want to have, we want full transparency, but the question becomes how do we collect the data and how do we aggregate the data,” Naumann said.

However, it does allow for those agencies to request a one-year waiver.

Something both Republicans and the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police would like to see added is the requirement for officers who witness someone using excessive force to intervene or face charges themselves.

“We think it’s something that is practical,” said Ron Sloan, a contracted legislative spokesperson for the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police.

His group had seen older versions of the bill from earlier in the session but is now quickly working through the details of this version of the bill.

“Clearly the intent we agree with, and we want to work with the legislature on it. There are many issues that we would want to try to work with the legislature to modify to make sure they’re practical,” Sloan said.

He says the bill needs time for lawmakers to work through all of the details to make sure that the changes are being implemented are the right ones to ensure accountability.

Naumann also believes the bill needs some time to be thoroughly debated and thought through.

“That requires us to all be at the same table to find out where we agree and where we disagree and why we disagree because that does matter. When we are talking about a bill this big, the disagreement isn’t over, do we need change? It’s over what kind of change? How quickly and what affects couldn’t have down the road?” Naumann said.

The biggest legislative battle will likely be over the qualified immunity and good-faith rules that prevent people from suing individual officers. The bill would not allow those to be used as a defense, opening the door to possible lawsuits against individuals.

With little time left in the legislative session, this bill will likely move quickly through the legislative process. It could head to a committee as early as Thursday.

Despite all of the changes between the original draft and the version that was formally introduced and all of the amendments that are yet to come, the one thing Democrats, Republicans, and police groups say is consistent is that they are committed to changing law enforcement agencies for the better.