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Bills viewed as a way to build trust between Colorado police, citizens

May 25, 2015 Updated: May 25, 2015 at 10:31 am
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photo - Gov. John Hickenlooper speaks to a crowd in the Pikes Peak Library District on Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2014. (The Gazette/Jerilee Bennett)
Gov. John Hickenlooper speaks to a crowd in the Pikes Peak Library District on Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2014. (The Gazette/Jerilee Bennett) 

DENVER - In a nation riled by a slew of cases of fatal police brutality or shooting of unarmed suspects, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed six bills last week aimed at "restoring trust" between the Colorado's law enforcement agencies and the community.

"The relationship between law enforcement agencies and communities has been strained," Hickenlooper said.

Several high-profile incidents have happened in the last year, including murder charges being filed against police officers in Baltimore, protests in Ferguson, Mo., and a South Carolina officer facing charges after a video showed an officer shooting multiple times at a man as he fled.

"I think in Colorado we recognize that our law enforcement is part of our community partnership and that there's a give and take," the governor said before signing the bills in his office.

The bills pilot a body camera program; require specific data reporting of officer involved shootings and detectives from other agencies to investigate officer involved shootings; reform the state's police officer training program; enables law enforcement agencies to disclose to another agency if an officer applying for a job there has lied; and strengthens the right of citizens to record police interactions.

Hickenlooper said it's important both sides recognize what a difficult job law enforcement have, but he said there are "bad apples."

"I've worked with hundreds and hundreds of police officers and state troopers, and they are not all perfect. But generally speaking, they are as fine a group of people as you can work with," Hickenlooper said.

The bills were a bipartisan effort across the Republican-controlled Senate and the Democrat-controlled House. Sen. John Cooke, a former Weld County sheriff and Republican who opposed the gun bills in 2013, sponsored five of the six bills.

"It was kind of a fine line at first because I saw a lot of bills that were coming out of the House, and I looked at them as anti-law enforcement bills," Cooke said, waiting outside Hickenlooper's office at the Capitol. "They put their life on the line every day, and they have no idea what is going to happen at a traffic stop or a domestic violence call."

But Cooke said the more he looked into it, the more he realized there was a middle ground for reasonable legislation.

"I put myself in other legislators' shoes and I said OK, there are some things we can work on here," Cooke said.

The compromise was a package of six bills that don't go nearly as far as the package introduced by Democrats in the House. Some programs were watered down to pilots and a bill that would have expanded the definition of racial profiling didn't make it to the governor's desk.

Rep. Angela Williams, D-Denver, said the bills are just the start.

"Colorado is going to be ahead. We don't want to be a Ferguson. We don't want to be a New York," said Williams, whose name appears on all but one of the bills. "I think the most important part of this package is you have legislators representing different communities in this state, and it is an example of how we can walk across the aisle."

Hickenlooper said the bills are the start of the cultural change that happens not just at the state level, but at the national and local levels, too.

"I think these bills are a foundation," he said.

The bills are:

- House Bill 1285 creates a program that will apply for grants for police departments to purchase body cameras and train officers how to use them.

-House Bill 1287 reforms the Peace Officer Standards and Training Board to provide greater oversight and safer police tactics. It adds four members to the board, which previously had 20 members, and requires at least five of those members not be from law enforcement. It calls for training curriculum to include anti-bias, community policing and de-escalation courses.

- House Bill 1290 clarifies that citizens have a right to record police interactions and behavior as long as it doesn't interfere with police business. Officers cannot interfere with a citizen recording, seize a recording or retaliate against a person recording an incident.

- Senate Bill 217 requires that the state collect data on each officer-involved shooting that includes demographic information on the officer and the individual shot as well as search, citation and arrest information.

- Senate Bill 218 requires law enforcement agencies to disclose information about former employees who have lied on their applications for employment to other agencies.

- Senate Bill 219 requires law enforcement agencies to create procedures for officer-involved shootings that include detectives from another agency investigating the incident.

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Contact Megan Schrader: 286-0644

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