Tuesday, August 4, 2020

New state law impacting the area policing agencies

Local departments already following some regs, figuring out others

By Mark Reaman

The Colorado legislature recently passed a new law dealing with local policing protocols that was signed by Governor Polis and is now being put into place by local law enforcement agencies. The new legislation is expected to impact individual police officers as well as local municipalities. Crested Butte town attorney Barbara Green gave the Town Council a heads up on the issue at the June 15 meeting, and the town, along with other law enforcement agencies in the area, is analyzing the new rules.

“The legislation passed will increase the criminal liability and the civil liability for peace officers and municipalities,” Green said. “It is very serious and imposes a lot of requirements on police departments across Colorado.”

Crested Butte town manager Dara MacDonald said CB law enforcement officials have been “diving deep into understanding the new legislation and what the impacts will be for our marshals. Fortunately we have a tremendous crew in place already, but there will be more procedures and processes for them to implement.”

A summary of the impacts of Senate Bill 217 from the Colorado Municipal League indicates there will be expanded criminal and civil liability for peace officers as the new law “narrows the circumstances in which peace officers are justified when resorting to the use of deadly force in general…”

The summary states that a peace officer can be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor if he or she fails to intervene or fails to report when a fellow officer engages in excessive force. The summary states that police will be sanctioned if they fail to activate or tamper with body cameras.

There are new regulations dealing with areas such as training, protest and demonstrations, profiling individuals, documentation and reporting requirements including the documentation of demographics.

Gunnison County sheriff John Gallowich said his department is already abiding by some of the new regulations and preparing to follow others.

“On June 19 Governor Polis signed the bill concerning measures to enhance law enforcement integrity,” Gallowich wrote in an email. “This legislation will require that all Peace Officers wear body worn cameras, which must be activated during any interaction with the public initiated by the Peace Officer for the purpose of enforcing the law or investigating possible violations of the law. This does not include undercover operations. While law enforcement agencies have until July 1 of 2023 to equip their Peace Officers with body worn cameras, the Gunnison County Sheriffs Office purchased body worn cameras prior to the recent incidents that encouraged this legislation.”

Crested Butte chief marshal Mike Reily said he and his counterparts in the region are indeed looking at the new law and implementing what they are able to immediately while figuring out what else they will be required to do. His department is also already wearing body cams. “Elements of the body worn camera [BWC] sections of the law are not required until 2023 but we are ahead of that curve having just implemented our BWC program this year,” he said.

“There wasn’t much time to digest the contents of the bill before it became law so all Colorado law enforcement are trying to sort through the contents of the legislation,” Reily explained. “In the last week I have had meetings with the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police [CACP], the Seventh Judicial District Area Law Enforcement Executives [ALEE], the District Attorney’s Office and several meetings involving Gunnison County area law enforcement to work through the myriad of sections which are in the legislation.”

Reily said the elements of the law that went into effect last Friday were immediately addressed with the Crested Butte officers and put into effect by directive. Those include things like documentation of additional demographic data for investigative contacts and activating body cams.

As for the use of force, Reily said there is a ban on “chokeholds,” which now includes vascular restraints. New force and deadly force limitations are in place, records management of the use of force is being recorded and there is now “a duty to intervene placed on officers if excessive force is being used.” As far as policing protests and demonstrations, there are “restrictions on circumstances in which ‘kinetic impact projectiles,’ tear gas and pepper spray may be deployed by law enforcement agencies and individual officers…”

According to Reily, Colorado Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) is working to provide use of force training by the September 1 deadline. “We will be working with experts from CIRSA—our insurance provider—the town’s attorneys, CACP, Colorado POST and other legal professionals to refine our policy and procedures to make sure we conform to all legislation and best practices,” he said.

“Law enforcement will also be required to obtain additional information regarding our contacts with the public while investigating any violation of the law or while conducting investigations. This will generate additional paperwork and reporting,” added Gallowich. “There is also a section of this legislation which sets guidelines describing the duty to report use of force by peace officers and the duty to intervene. Most agencies currently have a use of force report. Under the new legislation there will be mandated guidelines to follow in reporting the use of force by a peace officer.”

Reily said he is not yet clear on the liability now incurred by officers and municipalities under the new regulations, and is seeking clarification through the insurance company for the town. “But yes, there is additional liability on both officers and the town,” he said.

Gallowich said too that as a result of this legislation more liability could be placed on both the peace officer and the employer.

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