Colorado Legislature advances accountability and transparency while maintaining community safety

Colorado News

DENVER, CO – MAY 29: Police officers watch over a crowd of people near the Colorado state capitol during a protest on May 29, 2020 in Denver, Colorado. This was the second day of protests in Denver, with more demonstrations planned for the weekend. Demonstrations are being held across the US after George Floyd died in police custody on May 25th in Minneapolis, Minnesota.(Photo by Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images)

DENVER, Colo. — Colorado law enforcement organizations credited state lawmakers today for building on efforts to improve accountability and transparency in policing while considering community safety amid rising crime rates.

The Colorado Legislature advanced proposals that would fund a study of evidenced-based policing national best practices (House Bill 21-1250) and expand a grant program to include alternative responses that do not send law enforcement to certain calls involving people in crisis (HB 21-1030); provide important clarifications to Senate Bill 20-217, last year’s omnibus police reform (HB 21-1250); and support police accountability through more consistent disclosure of officer credibility concerns (Senate Bill 21-174). 

However, law enforcement remains concerned about a measure that will chill communication among first responders (HB 21-1251) and new requirements that not only compromise the safety of inmates and jail staff but also cannot be funded by strained county budgets (HB21-1211).

“Colorado law enforcement shares the goal of addressing racial and social disparities in our criminal justice system. As we work to ensure equity, these changes cannot come at the cost of community safety,” said Chief Cory Christensen, president of the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police. “We commend lawmakers who prioritized public safety as they considered some well-intended but dangerous legislation.” 

Senate Bill 20-217 clarifications and study of evidenced-based policing (House Bill 21-1250)

Colorado led the country last legislative session in passing omnibus legislation to help ensure policing is fair and just. From the time Senate Bill 20-217 was introduced, Colorado law enforcement worked collaboratively with lawmakers to finalize a bill that is operationally feasible and allows law enforcement agencies to carry out the intent of the Legislature.

However, as law enforcement began implementing different portions of Senate Bill 217, ambiguous wording in some sections led agencies to interpret things differently. With House Bill 21-1250, the Legislature provided important clarifications to SB 217 to bring greater consistency to how the law is being implemented throughout the state.

Working with bill sponsors, Colorado law enforcement helped craft and supported an amendment that would fund a study of evidenced-based policing best practices. If HB 21-1250 becomes law, the state will hire a nationally recognized consultant, who, among other things, will identify best practices around use of force standards and training, crime and harm reduction strategies, how to safely increase community responses for calls for service and how to improve candidate recruitment and ongoing training. The consultant will complete an interim study by Dec. 30, 2021, and the final study by July 1, 2022.

Community partnerships (House Bill 21-1030)

For years, law enforcement officers have increasingly been asked to respond to a wide array of public safety, behavioral health and social service issues in their communities, without always having adequate resources, tools and provider partnerships to do so. 

This session, lawmakers expanded partnerships between law enforcement and community-based organizations and providers to respond to calls for service related to behavioral health crises and social services. 

“As the go-to first responder for people facing mental health and other challenges, we have long advocated for this change,” said Colorado Fraternal Order of Police President Steve Schulz. “We’re excited about this approach because it helps provide people with the services they need and prevents involvement with the criminal justice system.”

The Peace Officers Behavioral Health Support and Community Partnerships grant program also promotes and supports the mental health and fitness for thousands of police officers throughout Colorado, further enhancing their ability to meet the public safety needs of the communities they serve.

Community safety related to arrest standards

When COVID-19 hit Colorado, law enforcement statewide temporarily limited interactions with the general public, and many sheriffs worked to temporarily adjust arrest standards in order to protect our jail populations from the public health threat of COVID-19.  

During this time, law enforcement leaders have continuously sought to balance the realities of a public health pandemic with public safety. These collective and individual strategies have reduced the spread of COVID-19 but have also impacted public safety in ways we are only beginning to understand. 

Senate Bill 62 and then Senate Bill 273 would have drastically limited the ability of law enforcement and our courts to keep our communities safe and to seek justice for victims of crime. Both measures were postponed indefinitely.

“Reform does not have to be at odds with community safety,” said Amy J. Nichols, executive director of the County Sheriffs of Colorado. “This is challenging work, and we look forward to ongoing collaborative discussions to achieve these important goals.”

Credibility disclosure policies

Honesty and credibility are essential traits of law enforcement officers. This session, Colorado law enforcement organizations built upon work in prior years and advocated to ensure policies are in place for law enforcement agencies and district attorney’s offices to improve transparency and consistency for officers and members of the public. Senate Bill 21-174 creates a statewide model for peace officer credibility disclosure notifications by Dec. 1, 2021. The statewide model must include policies and procedures that law enforcement agencies and district attorney’s offices are required to adopt and implement on or before Jan. 1, 2022.

Funding for body-worn cameras

Law enforcement supports the use of body-worn cameras. However, a clear path to funding this requirement is necessary, as not all agencies can afford this equipment. 

In addition to the cost of purchasing body cameras, funding is needed for storage and staff support to review and redact footage of minors, victims, nudity, etc. Complying with the new requirements will cost some agencies millions of dollars.  

The Colorado Legislature approved $6 million in grants for body-worn cameras.

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