Police liability and reform on Craig’s radar
Local officials concerned about recruitment in wake of national trends, new Colorado law
Declining interest in the law enforcement profession nationwide can be felt at the Craig Police Department, which Interim Police Chief Michael Cochran acknowledged this week.
Speaking to Craig City Council members at their meeting Tuesday, Cochran said his department is dealing with the same challenges in recruiting and retaining police personnel as other law enforcement offices throughout the country due in large part to police reform.
“We are seeing a huge exodus from this field,” Cochran said.
In Colorado, more than 200 law enforcement officers reportedly left their jobs after Gov. Jared Polis signed Senate Bill 217 into law June 19. The bill was passed in the aftermath of the George Floyd killing and addressed use of deadly force, data reporting and other elements of policing. It also says police officers can be sued individually and be held personally liable for up to $25,000 in damages.
Now, there’s another police accountability bill under consideration in Colorado. House Bill 21-1250 is a progression of Senate Bill 20-217, and would require officers to wear body cameras also during welfare checks and limit them to using deadly force as a last resort when other methods do not work. It also would eliminate state patrol officers from immunity.
“State Patrol last year lost 140 troopers and they’re training 20 this year,” noted City Councilman Ryan Hess, who has a career in law enforcement.
He added, “Realistically in the next year, that may be something we get here where staffing levels get low in law enforcement, where it may get kind of interesting.”
Citing a survey from the County Sheriffs of Colorado and the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police, The Gazette of Colorado Springs reported March 28 that the rise in officer departures in Colorado has been due to concerns about Senate Bill 20-217 (65% of respondents) and the future of the policing profession (60%).
Craig’s department currently has an opening for one officer position as well as the commander post.
“Everybody across the country is having huge recruitment issues,” Cochran said. “Especially after last year, this is not a very popular field to be in.”
Officer liability also is an issue the city is addressing, according to remarks at Tuesday’s meeting.
“With the different senate bills that have passed, liabilities, general temperament across the nation … I hope our officers aren’t feeling that, particularly here,“ Mayor Jarrod Ogden said. ”I get the liability issue is obviously huge.”
City Manager Peter Brixius said in an email that the city is “examining the impacts of SB-217 and how the City of Craig can appropriately extend additional support for our officers.“
“The fact is, the perception that SB-217 has created within law enforcement is really affecting morale and recruitment of officers across the state,” he said. “The City of Craig would like to step up and provide additional support for our officers. Support that would basically indicate that the City of Craig has your back when acting in good faith. We have very talented and necessary staff at the Craig PD and the City of Craig needs to be there, when needed.”
After the June 19 passage of Senate Bill 20-217, five Craig police officers were sued individually in two lawsuits regarding use of excessive force.
The city agreed to a $60,000 settlement with a man who sued two of its police officers in July 2020 over a tasering incident in July 2018. The settlement agreement, which was formalized in January, said it “is not to be construed as an admission of liability by the defendants.”
Another suit, filed in October, is pending against three officers involved in a tasering incident in Feb. 18, 2020. One of those officers, Josh Lyons, is no longer with the Craig police force, Cochran said at Tuesday’s meeting.
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On May 17, Moffat County High School acknowledged some of its best and brightest student-athletes for the Class of 2021 with the Lewis “Dude” Dent Memorial Award ceremony.