Democratic state lawmakers on Tuesday began to unveil a sweeping bill aimed at increasing law enforcement accountability in Colorado by collecting racial profiling data, ensuring officers hold each other accountable and making it easier for the public to file lawsuits against police.
The measure, which could be introduced as soon as Wednesday, also would beef up how law-enforcement involved deaths are investigated, prevent problematic officers from moving to different police departments and sheriff’s offices, and require agencies to use body cameras while giving them guidelines on how and when to release footage.
The legislation is expected to be introduced Wednesday in the Colorado Senate and comes in response the death last week of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minnesota. Tuesday was the sixth straight day of protests in Denver in response to Floyd’s death.
“This is not a new conversation. Many of my colleagues have been talking about various aspects of police reform for years,” said Senate President Leroy Garcia, a Pueblo Democrat who will be one of the prime sponsors of the bill. “And, quite frankly, it’s a travesty that it takes such a catastrophe that’s happening across the United States, and in many of our own backyards, (for the legislation to happen).”
The legislation was formally announced on Tuesday before hundreds of people gathered outside of the state Capitol to demonstrate. Garcia was joined by state Rep. Leslie Herod, a Denver Democrat who is slated to be another prime sponsor of the measure, and other leading Democrats.
“We are still finalizing some of the language,” Garcia said.
Gov. Jared Polis, speaking at a news conference, on Tuesday expressed a willingness to work on a measure addressing police accountability.
Law enforcement and district attorneys in Colorado are anxious about the introduction of such a wide-ranging bill when the legislature only has a matter of weeks to iron out the details and get it passed.
The Colorado General Assembly returned last week from a two-month pause because of the coronavirus crisis and it set to adjourn before the end of June.
“Law enforcement and prosecutors have various concerns over the breadth and the sweeping nature of all the element of this bill,” said Tom Raynes, who runs the Colorado District Attorneys’ Council. “Almost any section of this bill could be a two to three to four month conversation in itself. There’s wariness of jamming this through in five to seven days.”
Raynes said there are parts of the legislation, which he has seen a draft of, that prosecutors could be amenable to. But, he said, there are elements of it that are nonstarters.
Herod said she has met with the law enforcement community about the measure, but that their opinion isn’t a deal breaker.
“I want to be clear that I don’t need to ask their permission to run a bill forward,” she said. “I am a state representative. It is my job to represent the community.”
Garcia said it’s clear the time to act is now.
“Why would you not want greater accountability or transparency in your police department?” he said. “We haven’t done enough soon enough.”
One aspect of the bill that law enforcement does support is a section that would require officers to intervene if their comrades use unreasonable force against a member of the public. Violators would face criminal prosecution.
The ACLU of Colorado is endorsing the measure, touting its unveiling on its social media channels.
“It’s a very significant change,” said Denise Maes, the ACLU of Colorado’s public policy director. “Colorado is in a good place, but we can’t pretend that there isn’t more progress to be made.”
Herod said she would like to include a clause in the measure creating a statewide investigation force to be house in the Colorado Attorney General’s Office and which would investigate law enforcement complaints and deaths at the hands of sheriff’s deputies and police officers. Herod said she was still in talks with Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, a Democrat, about that aspect of the legislation.
“The Attorney General’s Office has been engaged with the sponsors of the criminal justice reform bill to ensure it improves peace officer training, provides greater accountability and restores trust in law enforcement,” Weiser’s spokesman, Lawrence Pacheco, said in a written statement.
Another part of the new bill would change Colorado’s so-called “fleeing felon law,” which allows officers to use deadly force against people they suspect are fleeing the commission of a felony. The legislation would change the law to limit the use of deadly force only when there is an imminent threat of a suspect using a weapon as part of their escape.
Garcia said the details of the bill are still being worked out and it’s subject to change.