Update: SB20-217 "Enhance Law Enforcement Integrity" passed the legislature Friday afternoon and is now awaits Gov. Jared Polis' signature.
Our original story continues below.
An expansive proposed law that will require police officers across the state to wear body cameras and overhaul how officers can use force against people cleared is on its way to becoming law.
Colorado is among the first states in the country to tackle wholesale, statewide police accountability reform in the wake of George Floyd’s death while in the custody of Minneapolis police officers.
Video footage of Floyd’s arrest, in which an officer knelt on his neck for 8 minutes and 48 seconds, sparked protests and a national movement urging police reforms.
The calls for change have included bans on chokeholds, limits when officers can use force, and more transparency around when officers shoot or kill someone on duty.
Those measures are included in SB 20-217, the bill to Enhance Law Enforcement Integrity. It would also be easier now to sue cops individually and easier to decertify them under the Police Officer Standards and Training if they have been found guilty of violating new rules.
“It’s only been three weeks since George Floyd was murdered and if you think about what we were able to accomplish in Colorado in this time frame, we can all be proud of this work,” said Democratic state Sen. Rhonda Fields. “Everybody thinks this is all about a national issue, but we have police brutality and issues right here in Colorado.”
The bill, which is co-sponsored by every Democrat in the legislature, has gotten a surprising amount of support from police chiefs, prosecutors and sheriffs. One Fraternal Order of Police representative testified his organization is supporting the bill because “a culture change is needed.”
“This isn’t just about following policy, it’s about doing right,” said Sgt. Rob Pride, who also works at the Loveland Police Department, but is speaking on behalf of the Fraternal Order. “The community is up in arms and we get that and they have the right to be.”
The House voted 52-13 to pass the bill Friday afternoon, with all the no votes coming from Republicans. The Senate swiftly agreed to House amendments and the measure will soon head to the governor's desk.
The final version of the bill differs in many ways from the one introduced just over a week ago. Lawmakers agreed to a number of changes to bring Republicans and law enforcement on board, from pushing back the deadline for all police departments to implement body cameras to lowering the maximum damages an officer can personally be liable for in a wrongful use-of-force lawsuit.
Despite the amendments, even the most ardent criminal justice reformers pushing the bill and helping author parts of it stood in support of it this week — sometimes emotionally.
“None of us knew George Floyd, we don’t know,” said Democratic state Rep. James Coleman. “But you all know me … If there is anything that comes as an unintended consequence as what this bill does, I’ll be there with you to change that. This isn’t about cops versus folks in our community. This is about making sure we repair the relationship between the folks in our community.”
Among the bill’s new requirements:
- Officers can’t use carotid chokeholds.
- Officers can’t use deadly force to arrest someone on suspicion of minor or non-violent offenses.
- Officers can’t use deadly force unless there is proof of imminent threat of danger and there is a substantial risk that the suspect will hurt others.
- All police officers and sheriffs deputies will be required to wear body cameras when they make stops and during most interactions with the public. Body camera recordings will be required to be released to the public after incidents, in most circumstances, within 14 days.
- Officers can be sued individually for misconduct — and will be on the hook for up to $25,000 or 5 percent of the judgment, whichever is less. It has to be determined that the officer did not act in good faith.
- Cops must have a legal basis for establishing contact with someone, including stopping them on the street or pulling over vehicles in traffic.
- By 2023, all police departments are required to report all use of force that results in bodily injury or death to a state agency — that information includes the demographics of the person who was injured or killed by police, the type of force used, as well as the officer’s name who was involved.
- In response to a protest or a demonstration, cops can’t use chemical agents, namely tear gas, without warning. They can’t fire rubber or foam bullets indiscriminately into a crowd.
- The attorney general will have the power to investigate police departments for civil rights violations.
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