Polis signs Law Enforcement Integrity Act into law

Rep. Leslie Herod speaks at the signing of SB20-217.

Gov. Jared Polis today signed sweeping bipartisan law enforcement reform measures into law. 

SB 20-217, Enhance Law Enforcement Integrity, will increase accountability and transparency within Colorado’s law enforcement system, and aims to bring “bold change” to how law enforcement treats all Coloradans.  

The signing falls on Juneteenth, the celebration and commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. Polis was joined by the bill’s sponsors, Representatives Leslie Herod and Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez and Senators Leroy Garcia and Rhonda Fields.

“Generations of Coloradans and communities across the country have been waiting far too long for this historic moment,” Herod (D-Denver), chair of the Black Caucus, said in a statement after the signing.

“155 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. People around the globe raised their voices and took action to demand justice. Together, we’ve made real change to address the violence and brutality that Black and Brown communities have endured at the hands of law enforcement.” 

“Yes, the call for justice around the murder of George Floyd is what drove the change here in Denver,” Herod said in her speech at the signing of SB 20-217, “but we must remember the names of the folks right here in Colorado who have lost their lives at the hands of law enforcement: De’Von Bailey, Elijah McClain.

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“There is such a thing as being too late. We were too late for De’Von Bailey. We were too late for Elijah McClain. But their deaths do not have to be in vain. The urgency of now tells us to act today to bring justice to these families, to change the law in Colorado and to hold law enforcement accountable. … And those who do wrong and do harm to our community should face criminal charges — be put in jail — and civil charges. This bill does that.

“This bill is not the end all be all — it doesn’t change culture, I can’t legislate culture change, I can’t legislate hate out of someone’s heart — but what we can do is take a big step in the right direction and continue to commit to working on these issues.” 

Herod emphasized the bill was led by women of color, and by the Black and Brown caucus, and that President Leroy Garcia hadn’t hesitated in taking it up. 

“We achieved something incredible today,” Garcia (D-Pueblo) said after the signing. “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. 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. I feel incredibly humbled to have been a part of such meaningful legislation, and am committed to continuing the fight against abuse of power no matter the source.” 

Latino Caucus Co-Chair Gonzales-Gutierrez (D-Denver) said, “since our country’s founding, Black and Brown communities have been fighting for justice and equality, and today, we’re a big step closer as Colorado’s bipartisan law enforcement accountability legislation is signed into law.

“This bill enacts lasting and long-overdue measures to bring greater accountability and transparency to law enforcement. I am grateful for the hard work of so many advocates and law enforcement partners who came to the table and found common ground, and I am proud to see the governor sign this historic legislation today.” 

“Today is one of the most meaningful days of my legislative career,” Fields (D-Aurora) said. “We’ve been working on police accountability legislation for decades but have never had the support to get it done. 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. I am incredibly grateful for the persistence and passion of our community and will never stop uplifting their cries for change.” 

SB20-217 enacts several provisions to prevent police brutality and increase transparency and accountability in law enforcement. Among these provisions are the following: 

Mandate body cameras. The bill requires officers to wear body cameras and record interactions with members of the public that have potential for enforcement, and for footage of an incident of misconduct to be released to the public within 21 days. The bill includes privacy provisions for victims, witnesses, and juveniles, or when footage contains highly personal circumstances such as nudity, and it ensures the victim of the officer misconduct and the victim’s family receive the footage 72 hours prior to public release.

Require public reporting on policing. All law enforcement agencies would be required to track and publicly report data for any contacts they initiate for law enforcement purposes. That data would include any use of force (both the type and severity), civilian searches, forced entries into homes, the unholstering and discharge of a firearm, and demographic information on race, ethnicity, sex and age of the person contacted.

Rein in use of deadly force by officers. It would bring Colorado law in line with Supreme Court precedent holding that an officer may only use deadly force, including on someone who is fleeing the police, when there is an imminent risk of danger to human life if their apprehension is delayed. It also repeals an officer’s authority to ever use dangerous tactics like the chokehold.

Prevent the rehiring of bad actors. If an officer is convicted of, or pleads guilty to, any inappropriate use of physical force, their POST certification would be revoked. Officers who are found untruthful, terminated for cause, or decertified would be listed in a public database to prevent them from moving from one agency to another.

Hold individual officers liable for their actions. It would allow victims of police misconduct to bring a lawsuit for the violation of their constitutional rights within a two-year statute of limitations, and officers convicted of misconduct would no longer be shielded by the doctrine of qualified immunity. It would make the failure to intervene during another officer’s inappropriate use of physical force a class 1 misdemeanor 

Restricts the use of chemical agents and projectiles. In light of incidents at recent protests, this bill would prohibit law enforcement officers from using tear gas without first verbalizing orders to disperse a crowd and allowing individuals adequate time to comply. The bill prohibits officers from targeting rubber bullets at someone’s head, torso or back.

Managing Editor, Colorado Springs Business Journal

Helen Robinson is a graduate of The University of Queensland, Australia. She worked in print media in Australia, Canada and the United States before joining the Colorado Springs Business Journal in 2016.