DENVER — Gov. Jared Polis (D-Colorado) signed the new police reform bill into law at a ceremony Friday morning. The bill made its way through the Colorado Legislature quickly in the wake of the death of George Floyd.
"We’ve been working on police accountability legislation for decades, but have never had the support to get it done," said Rep. Rhonda Fields, one of the bill's sponsors. "However, the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd ignited something in this country that created an unstoppable wave – providing us with the momentum we needed to finally deliver on this policy."
The Enhance Law Enforcement Integrity (SB20-217) contains several provisions discussed in recent years to address police use-of-force and accountability standards. Among the provisions would be mandated body-worn camera usage and disclosure of footage by local departments and the Colorado State Patrol, a ban on chokeholds and the ability to sue officers directly for their conduct.
An amendment added in response to the racial justice protests would place limits on departments' use of chemical agents and projectiles when handling protesters.
In the final vote last week, 11 Republicans joined all Democrats in passing the measure. Polis officially signed it into law Friday morning and was joined by the bill's sponsors, Senate President Leroy Garcia ( D-Pueblo), Sen. Rhonda Fields (D-Aurora), and Reps. Leslie Herod (D-Denver) and Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez (D-Denver).
“Generations of Coloradans and communities across the country have been waiting far too long for this historic moment,” said Herod. “One-hundred fifty-five years after slavery ended in the Confederacy, it’s clear we have more work to do to end the systemic racism and injustice that is pervasive in our society.
Westminster Police is one example of a Colorado police department that does not currently have body worn cameras. A spokesperson said they are planning to get them, but have not said when that might happen.
"Westminster has money in its police budget to buy police cameras, they just have chosen not to," Herod said. "It's time to stop asking and start requiring what we want to see out of our law enforcement."
Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock, former president of County Sheriffs of Colorado — an association and advocacy group for county sheriffs — said about half of the organization's 64 county sheriffs have body worn cameras.
"Small jurisdictions don't have that kind of infrastructure, so it's going to be very problematic for them," Spurlock said. "We're going to have to work together to try to find ways to help those agencies and help them be able to implement this new law."
For the departments that doesn't meet the deadline for body worn cameras, Herod said there will be consequences.
"It's the law, so if they don't we have the ability to do things like withhold funding," Herod said. "The [Attorney General] could come in and take over the department … and don't forget there's always the possibility for the [American Civil Liberties Union] to come in and sue departments who are violating the Colorado law."
The bill's approval was sparked in part by the death of George Floyd in Minnesota. In a video shared widely, a white officer with the Minneapolis Police Department is seen kneeling for several minutes while Floyd, an unarmed Black man who can be heard saying he can't breathe.
That officer and the others at the scene were all fired and have been charged in connection with Floyd's death. The video sparked protests across the country here in Colorado and has led to many changes, including the passage of the police reform bill.
“Less than four weeks after the tragic murder of George Floyd, Colorado has passed one of the most comprehensive and progressive police accountability laws in the country," Garcia said. "I am overwhelmingly proud of how we were able to bring everyone to the table and unite them around a common call for justice. Police violence and department complacency have eroded trust within the community and needs to be confronted head-on.”
"Today as Colorado observes Juneteenth, we recognize social justice holds an important place in our society, including policing. Senate Bill 217 is an example of a collaborative process to help ensure justice and policing in Colorado is transparent and fair. So many people -- advocates; lawmakers on both sides of the aisle; and law enforcement -- worked tirelessly to improve accountability.
“Many of the policies included in Senate Bill 217 are already in place at the local level, but we are glad to have statutory support for changes that law enforcement can implement uniformly statewide. Other parts represent a significant change in the way officers do their jobs. Amid COVID restrictions and social distancing requirements, departments statewide face the challenge of training officers in the quick timelines required; and they are already hard at work to inform and train officers in a thorough and safe manner.
“We recognize implementing SB 217 is just one piece of building community trust and ongoing conversations are needed. We are committed to keeping the lines of communication open between law enforcement agencies, lawmakers and the communities we serve."
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