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Now, state is at odds over police reform

Discussions are taking place at the Legislature this week over whether to reconsider a controversial bill addressing unlawful police orders. The emotionally charged issue brought demonstrators to downtown Denver in November after a grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri, decided not to charge police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown.

DENVER – A bill reforming police practices that passed out of a Colorado House committee Wednesday night may be reconsidered Thursday in an effort to kill it.

Rep. Daniel Kagan, D-Cherry Hills Village, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, confirmed that discussions are taking place over whether to reconsider the controversial bill addressing unlawful police orders.

“Some of the members have expressed reservations about whether they made the right decision, and if those members choose to move for reconsideration, that is their right,” Kagan said.

The House Judiciary Committee will meet again at 1:30 p.m. Thursday.

House Bill 1289 would require a court to dismiss all charges against a defendant that were based on a violation of an unlawful order.

The bill passed the committee Tuesday on a 7-6 vote, with four Democrats and three Republicans supporting the measure.

A member of the committee on the prevailing side of the vote can call for reconsideration. It would take a two-thirds vote of the committee to then reconsider the bill.

Concerns were raised by law enforcement and prosecutors over a provision of the bill that would allow a court to order an agency that filed the charges to reimburse the defendant for attorney’s fees. They also suggest that the bill is unnecessary, pointing out that there already are remedies through the courts.

Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton, who is co-sponsoring the bipartisan bill, acknowledged that he has heard about the discussions over reconsideration. But, considering it already has been voted on, he strongly is advising his colleagues to let the bill move on past the committee.

“I wish he would just allow it onto the House floor so that we can have the debate,” Salazar said of his Democratic colleague, Kagan. “It’s a bipartisan bill, so why wouldn’t it go on to the House floor?”

The bill is part of a larger package of 10 bills that aim at bringing police reforms to the state in the wake of national incidents that caused turmoil and unrest between residents and law enforcement. Much of the anxiety stems from racial issues.

Democrats touted HB 1289 at a news conference last month in which they claimed that the reform effort had widespread support. But a disconnect exists within the party on at least the unlawful order component of the package.

“It shows that when you’re dealing with novel issues of law – namely whether attorney fees should be awarded in certain criminal cases – that haven’t really been tried before, you’re liable to get widely divergent shifting views,” Kagan said.

When the package of reform bills was unveiled last month, lawmakers suggested that they generally had support from the law-enforcement community. But the committee hearing Tuesday night revealed that police officials have serious concerns about several of the proposals.

Other bills in the package address allowing citizens to record police incidents, encouraging officers to wear body cameras and expanding training across the state, among other measures.

Law-enforcement officials worry about punitive damages for prohibiting people from recording police incidents, a study group that would be created to implement guidelines on using body cameras and expanding training protocols without enough police input.

“Nobody in the police department needs to be trained not to commit crime,” said Chief John Jackson, president of the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police. “There’s no training needed that says you cannot steal people’s property, damage it, then lie about it. That’s not a training issue. You’re dealing with crime prevention at that point.”

Jackson said his organization had no control over how lawmakers unveiled the package of bills. He said his group declined to attend the news conference last month because they had not had a chance to review the bills at the time. Jackson said the association never made any promises concerning the reform effort.

“Let’s not start with, here’s what our house on the moon is going to look like. Let’s figure out how we’re going to get to the moon,” Jackson said. “Some of (the bills) are connected, and some are disconnected. We have no control over how they were issued.”

Salazar, however, believes the law-enforcement community has been disingenuous.

“We took them for their word,” Salazar said. “They did say that they were opposed to some of the package, but what they said before the press conference, and now what they’re doing in committee, it seems incongruous.”

pmarcus@durangoherald.com

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