Use of force reform bill advances

Posted at 9:46 PM, Jun 04, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-04 23:46:30-04

DENVER, Colorado — Colorado lawmakers began hearings Thursday for a bill that will make substantial changes in how local police departments and sheriff's offices handle the use of force. Senate Bill 217, the Enhance Law Enforcement Integrity bill, eliminates the use of chokeholds, calls for expanded use of officer-worn body cameras, and expedites the public release of the video recordings.

The bill removes language from the "fleeing felon" law so that the use of deadly force is only permitted when a person fleeing arrest is using a deadly weapon or is likely to imminently cause danger to life or serious bodily injury. The bill also creates a statewide tracking system in the Attorney General's Office for officers who are untruthful, decertified, or terminated. Officers convicted of excessive use of force are to be terminated and their Peace Officers Standards and Training (P.O.S.T.) certification permanently revoked.

There is broad support for many of the reforms in the bill. The Colorado District Attorney's Council urged cooperation in a news release supporting the reforms.

"District attorneys and many in the law enforcement community believe any peace officer who is convicted of inappropriate use of force should be terminated and support the elimination of the fleeing felon rule, banning the use of chokeholds by peace officers, increasing the use of body cams and creating a statewide tracking system within the Attorney General's office of officers who are untruthful, decertified or terminated," wrote Tom Raynes, Executive Director of the Colorado District Attorneys Council.

In a joint news release, the County Sheriff's of Colorado, the Colorado Fraternal Order of Police and the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police said that they support the passage of the bill but are asking lawmakers for some revisions to help address legal, financial and operational challenges.

"There are several concepts in this bill that we support, and Monday, we strongly urged lawmakers to address officers' duty to intervene when inappropriate use of force is present," Routt County Sheriff Garrett Wiggins, president of the County Sheriffs of Colorado, said in the news release.

The legal and financial challenges refer to another portion of the bill which eliminates qualified immunity for peace officers. Currently, peace officers are protected individually from civil lawsuits.

"We don't actually allow that in any of our other professions. And so, it's really important that we take away that immunity when an officer acts criminally," said Rep. Leslie Herod, one of the prime sponsors of the bill.

Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle, the past president of the County Sheriff's of Colorado, explained that recruitment for law enforcement careers is already challenging. He thinks this qualified immunity reform will scare away even more applicants.

"Stripping of personal liability protection, that's going to be a huge disincentive for people that want to even get into this job," Pelle said.

Pelle also voiced concerns about the cost of requiring law enforcement agencies to expand body camera usage. He noted that some smaller departments and sheriff's offices are struggling right now to keep gas in their fleet of patrol cars.

"This is going to be a huge financial impact statewide on those small agencies, cities, and counties," he said.

The bill passed the Senate State, Veterans, and Military Affairs on a 3-2 vote and was referred to the Committee on Appropriations. In its Fiscal Note, the Legislative Council Staff estimate the will require an additional $1.4 million for the Departments of Law, Public Safety, and Human Services. The note also points out increased costs to local governments to implement body camera systems. The estimated annual cost to buy and maintain 100 body cameras is $120,000.