Senate Bill 217 regarding police reform passes, but for local law enforcement it won’t change much
Police reforms that some may consider far-reaching are close to progressing towards becoming law following Saturday’s passing of Senate Bill 217 in the General Assembly.
Known as Enhance Law Enforcement Integrity Bill, the bill passed through General Assembly after being introduced on Wednesday, June 3. Governor Jared Polis has said he will sign the bill into law soon.
Colorado becomes the first state to pass a comprehensive police reform bill following the death of George Floyd at the knee of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin May 27. The bill sets limits on police use of force and mandating data collection to make sure cops who are fired from one agency don’t get rehired by another.
Additionally, among the biggest changes, Colorado’s Senate Bill 217 bans the use of chokeholds and carotid control holds, and also limits when police are allowed to shoot at a fleeing person while also requiring officers to intervene in cases of excessive force or face criminal charges. The bill requires all officers to use body-worn cameras and departments to release the footage within 45 days, and it allows for officers to be held personally liable for civil rights violations, according to language in the bill.
The bill will put Colorado in company with at least 23 other states that already require the release of officers’ body-worn camera footage upon request. The state also will join a handful of states that are improving data collection. The Colorado bill requires local agencies to report on all use-of-force incidents, not just those that are deadly. The information will go into a statewide database.
Eight main points of the bill include the following, according to the Denver Post:
Body-worn cameras: Every officer in the state — with some exceptions for jail deputies in facilities that already have cameras, undercover officers and those in administrative positions — will have to use body-worn cameras by Jul 1, 2023. The cameras must be activated when officers are responding to calls for service. Police who purposely fail to activate their cameras or tamper with them could face criminal liability or other penalties. Footage will be required to be released within 21 days after an allegation of misconduct, or within 45 days if the release could jeopardize a criminal investigation.
Use of force: Chokeholds and carotid control holds will be banned. Carotid control holds are maneuvers in which officers bend their arms around a person’s neck and apply pressure on either side of the windpipe, which can lead to unconsciousness. The policy would require officers to only use force if absolutely necessary and deadly force can’t be used against someone for a minor or nonviolent offense. Officers can only use deadly force against someone fleeing from police if they pose an immediate risk to the officer or others, which advocates say is already case law.
Failure to intervene: An officer who fails to try to stop another from using excessive force could face a class 1 misdemeanor or greater charge. Officers will be protected from retaliation if they intervene.
Fired cops: Officers who plead guilty to or are convicted of an inappropriate use of force, failure to intervene to stop excessive force or found civilly liable for excessive force or failure to intervene will lose their Peace Officer Standards and Training board certification permanently. Beginning Jan. 1, 2022, the POST board will create and maintain a public database of officers who have been decertified, fired, found to be untruthful or repeatedly failed to follow training requirements.
Qualified immunity: The bill removes the qualified immunity defense, allowing people to bring civil rights claims in Colorado court. People who allege civil rights violations will be able to sue officers in their individual capacities. Officers determined not to have acted in good faith or with a reasonable belief that what they did was legal can be held personally liable for 5% of a judgment or settlement or $25,000, whichever is less.
Police prosecutions: The state attorney general has the authority to prosecute persistently bad departments and officers.
Protester protections: Officers will be prohibited from shooting rubber bullets indiscriminately into a crowd as well as targeting rubber bullet shots at someone’s head, torso or back. It also prevents officers from using tear gas before announcing it and giving time to for people to disperse.
Data tracking: Law enforcement agencies will have to send the state data on their use of force resulting in serious injury or death as well as stops, unannounced entries and use of firearms. Some demographic information will also be required. Agencies who don’t provide the information could put their funding in jeopardy.
The full text of the bill is available at http://leg.colorado.gov/sites/default/files/documents/2020A/bills/2020a_217_rer.pdf.
While Senate Bill 217 brings sweeping changes to police reform across the state, some of the major changes won’t have much of an affect on Moffat County and Craig law enforcement, considering they’ve already implemented practices such as body cameras and reporting when their sidearm is unholstered during a response.
Craig Police Chief Jerry DeLong said that the department will have to purchase additional body cameras for investigators to make sure the full force is equipped under the new bill.
Chief DeLong added that the cameras typically cost around $400 a piece, but the real price hit comes with the cloud storage of footage shot on the body cameras, which costs around $4k-$5k a year.
“Roughly 80 percent of our department has body cameras, so we’ll just need to purchase body cameras for those in investigations and things like that,” DeLong said.
That money will have to be budgeted for down the line, Chief DeLong added, considering body cameras won’t be mandated until 2023.
Additionally, under the new use of force policy, Chief DeLong added that some additional training, as well as some tweaks in training methods, will be required for the department to come into compliance.
Overall though, the city’s Chief of Police is feeling much better about the bill following some major changes prior to its passing.
“I feel much, much better about the bill now that I did when it was first introduced; officers too,” Chief DeLong said. “…We live and work in a great community, so the bill won’t necessarily change the services that we provide.”
Moffat County Sheriff KC Hume was a few years ahead of the bill when it comes to the Sheriff’s Department. Sheriff Hume had body cameras implemented into the department in 2016 and intervening policies in place – much like the city’s police department – to make sure deputies hold each other accountable in the field.
The biggest change for the Sheriff’s Department, according to Hume, will be the data tracking policy implemented under the new bill.
“We were already collecting that data, but we didn’t have a method for exporting it to the state level,” Sheriff Hume said.
While Sheriff Hume believes there are things in the bill that are good, some of the language in the bill could change between now and the full implementation of the bill sometime in 2023.
“Don’t get me wrong, there’s good stuff in there that will make things a lot better,” Sheriff Hume said. “But between now and 2023, some things could be changed as people see it and go, ‘hmmm, there could be a better way of doing this.'”
While changes are ahead overall for those in law enforcement, Sheriff Hume echoed Chief DeLong’s sentiments regarding the community he serves in.
“We’re truly, truly blessed to live here in Moffat County,” Sheriff Hume said. “This community is unique; policing in Moffat County is likely different in Rio Blanco and Routt County. Fundamentally, law enforcement and public safety has multiple common threads, but it’s really tailored to the community that we serve.”
Sheriff Hume cited Sir Robert Peel, regarded as the father of modern policing while closing his thoughts on the new bill.
“Peel said that the community are the police and the police are the community,” Sheriff Hume said. “He said neither one can exist without the other, and I truly believe that…we’re lucky to live here and serve this community with all the support that we have.”
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