Rebuilding the Trust

(April 2) – Five bills in a 10-bill package of legislation to rebuild trust between law enforcement agencies and the communities they are sworn to serve have passed the House Judiciary Committee.

“Our goal is to strengthen public confidence in our police officers, and to rebuild police officers’ confidence that they are supported by the communities they serve,” said Rep. Angela Williams, D-Denver, who has been coordinating the “rebuilding trust” package. “There is no magic wand to achieve this goal. But the bills now making their way through the legislative process will reduce the confidence gap that exists between some law enforcement agencies and their local communities.”

Tonight, the Judiciary Committee voted 7-4 to change the standard for judicial intervention when a prosecutor decides not to file charges in a case of alleged police misconduct resulting in death or serious injury. Under HB15-1286, sponsored by Reps. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton, and Daniel Kagan, D-Cherry Hills Village, a judge may rule that a decision not to prosecute was an abuse of discretion rather than the current “arbitrary, capricious and without reasonable excuse” standard.

Rep. Salazar cited numerous cases in which innocent Coloradans were killed or injured by law enforcement officers and the officers were never charged. “The police must not be above the law,” he said.

Earlier tonight, the committee voted unanimously for HB15-1291, sponsored by Rep. Jovan Melton, D-Aurora, which prohibits the use of a chokehold by a law enforcement officer unless the officer is acting to prevent death or serious injury. The Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police testified in support of the bill.

“This is about public safety, making sure that no one is unintentionally harmed by this practice, and it rebuilds that trust that is so vital between community and law enforcement,” Rep. Melton told the committee before its 11-0 vote.

The first bill acted on today was HB15-1288, sponsored by Rep. Williams, specifying that evidence obtained from a profiling-motivated traffic stop or pedestrian stop will be inadmissible in court. It also expands the definition of profiling to include color, national origin, nationality, language, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status and disability.

Rep. Williams distributed statistics showing huge racial disparities in the number of people stopped or arrested by the police in a variety of localities across Colorado.

“The peace officers that serve this state — we know they put their lives on the line for us every day,” she told the committee before it voted 10-1 for the bill. “But I think by passing this bill that we’re sending a message to the people of Colorado that we care.”

The package began its journey through the Judiciary Committee on Tuesday with unanimous passage of HB15-1285, sponsored by Reps. Kagan and Williams, to provide funding to increase the number of Colorado officers wearing body cameras.

“They’ve been shown to have a civilizing effect, resulting in improved behavior among both police officers and citizens,” Rep. Kagan said. “They help exonerate police officers against erroneous claims of misbehavior and protect citizens from bad actors.”

Also passing 13-0 on Tuesday was HB15-1287, Rep. Williams’ bill adding four civilians to the state Peace Officer Standards and Training board, which sets requirements for certification of all officers working for Colorado law enforcement agencies. It also requires the board to take steps to promote diversity in police recruiting and to include anti-bias, community policing and de-escalation courses in police officers’ regular in-service training.

“Currently, the POST board is primarily made up of law enforcement officials and former law enforcement officials,” Rep. Williams explained. “This bill will add diversity to the board and bring different perspectives to the training law enforcement officers receive.”

HB15-1289, sponsored by Rep. Salazar and Rep. Justin Everett, R-Littleton, would have required a court to award attorney’s fees to defendants in cases based on an unlawful police order. That bill passed Tuesday night on a 7-6 vote, but was killed this afternoon after a “motion to reconsider” over concerns about what would constitute an unlawful order. The vote today was 10-3.

A seventh bill starting in the House, HB15-1290 by Reps. Salazar and Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo, clarifies that any person has a right to record law enforcement officers, as long as the person doing the recording does not physically get in the way of the officers performing their duties. That bill was laid over on Tuesday at the sponsors’ request for amendments to satisfy objections voiced by committee members.

The other three bills in the package have started in the Senate. SB15-218, to prevent police officers from hiding unfavorable entries in their personnel files simply by joining a different police force, and SB15-219, to increase transparency when a law enforcement officer is involved in a shooting, passed the Senate unanimously and are awaiting introduction in the House. SB15-217, collecting more data on officer-involved shootings, passed the Senate Judiciary Committee and is in Senate Appropriations.

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