Police accountability bill passes Colorado Senate

Published: Jun. 9, 2020 at 8:31 AM MDT
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Sweeping new legislation could mean big changes to how Colorado law enforcement officers do their job.

Senate Bill 217 is one step closer to becoming law after passing the Senate Tuesday with nearly unanimous support.

The bill comes as demonstrations enter their third week nationwide, protesting the death of an unarmed black man at the hands of police officers and calling for law enforcement reform.

“Don’t let anyone tell you that protesting doesn’t work or isn’t productive,” said Rep. Leslie Herod in a statement Tuesday. “For several days now, Coloradans have been protesting in the thousands demanding justice for George Floyd. They have been venting their anger and frustration at the many black and brown people killed at the hands of law enforcement, which, let’s be clear, is happening within our own Colorado communities. SB-217 is, in part, an answer to their call.”

The bill now moves to the state House of Representatives.

Notable changes the bill would bring forth include requiring all officers who are not undercover to wear body cameras and leave those cameras turned on at all times. Exceptions will be made if there are tactical discussions taking place or if what's happening is not related to the call.

The bill also calls for law enforcement agencies to report use of force that results in death or serious injury to the attorney general, will prohibit chokeholds, requires an objective justification for a traffic stop, limits when officers are allowed to shoot at a person running away, requires officers to intervene when seeing other officers using excessive force, and opens individual officers up for lawsuits over excessive force allegations.

It also imposes stiff consequences on officers convicted of using excessive force, including termination and permanently revoking their officer certification.

The sponsors of the bill say its intentions are to hold the bad actors accountable and is not aimed at the thousands of officers doing their jobs the right way. It's also aimed at changing a system they say sees minorities disproportionately harmed.

To read the bill in its entirety,

"I believe this is a necessary first step for the state of Colorado we have so much work to do around transparency and accountability in our police force," Rev. Dr. Stephany Rose Spaulding told 11 News reporter Danielle Kreutter.

Spaulding is a professor of ethnic studies and is also running for a U.S. Senate seat. She told Kreutter she supports the bill, including proposed consequences for officers who use excessive force.

"There's no glitch or there's no way that people can say, 'Oh, at this moment is was not working,'" she said of the bill's requirement that body cameras remain on. "... Having that unedited video is so important in building trust between community and law enforcement."

Of the bill's requirement that if an officer is convicted pr pleads guilty to inappropriate use of force or for failing to intervene when another officer uses inappropriate force, they can't be hired elsewhere, Spaulding said she whole-heartedly agreed.

"If people continue to give this narrative that 'there are just a few bad apples' then those bad apples should not be able to go and spoil the whole bunch at another law enforcement agency."

Former Pueblo County sheriff and former Fountain police chief Dan Corsentino told Kreutter he supports some parts of the bill but is uneasy with other parts.

"It's going to make many police officers not want to join the profession of the law enforcement ranks because of the potential exposure they have [to be sued as an individual]," he said of the bill's requirement that convicted officers pay for any lawsuit settlements themselves.

Corsentino supports getting rid of chokeholds and said he supports preventing convicted officers from getting hired somewhere else.

"It does remove transient police officers from going from department to department to be hired and then the same bad behavior becomes the burden of the new police department."

11 News reached out to Colorado Springs Police Department but was told the department does not want to comment on the bill. The El Paso County Sheriff's Office also told 11 News they are not commenting at this time.

11 News did obtain an internal email sent by El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder to his department last week, which says in part, "I support the intent of SB20-217, but I find this legislation over-reactive to our present circumstances...I do not believe it to be necessary to severely restrict and penalize every single law enforcement officer in this state for the actions of very few."