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Police reform measures advance in Legislature

With emotion out of the way, stakeholders come together
Colorado lawmakers on Thursday unanimously advanced four police-reform measures. The move signals a departure from the emotional conversations that dominated last year’s debate.

DENVER – State lawmakers on Thursday took up a second phase of police reform measures after stopping short of addressing larger issues last year.

The House Judiciary Committee passed four bills unanimously as part of the “rebuilding trust 2.0” package.

“This is in the best interest of our public and how our police officers will be policing on the street because ... we want to continue to rebuild trust,” said Rep. Angela Williams, D-Denver, who sponsored two of the bills.

House Bill 1262 would require background checks when someone applies to be a police officer, in an effort to weed out “bad apples.” The state certifying board would be prohibited from certifying an applicant with a past criminal record.

House Bill 1263 would expand the state’s prohibition on racial profiling to include national origin, language, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability.

House Bill 1264 would prohibit law enforcement from using the chokehold.

House Bill 1265 would require a law enforcement agency to petition to expunge arrest records of people arrested in a case of mistaken identity.

A fifth bill, House Bill 1117, would require law enforcement to record interrogations in felony investigations. That measure passed the Judiciary Committee last month and is working through the Legislature.

Tensions appeared to have quelled inside the Legislature since the issue hit a boiling point last year. Lawmakers were motivated to take action after high-profile local and national incidents of white police officers being accused of wrongdoing in the deaths of unarmed black men.

Last year saw emotional committee hearings, in which several black and Latino victims of police brutality testified of incidents that left emotional scars.

But the hearing on Thursday was largely void of those painful accounts, with testimony mostly coming from stakeholders, including law enforcement and civil liberties groups.

Lawmakers believe an interim legislative committee helped rally support. After acknowledging that they failed to achieve all of the reforms last year, lawmakers convened an interim legislative committee to discuss initiated contacts by law enforcement.

Profiling and chokeholds caused some of the most divisive debates last year. But compromises were reached this year, signaling that the interim committee was productive.

For chokeholds, sponsors of the bill agreed to allow officers to use the maneuver in situations of self-defense. In terms of profiling, lawmakers amended the bill so that it wouldn’t interfere with an officer making a legitimate initiated contact.

“We believe that most agencies participate, or try to participate, in spontaneous contacts with their communities to help strengthen relationships,” said Chief of Police at Auraria Higher Education Center Mike Phibbs, representing the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police. “Had the language, as originally written, been included, we would not have had the opportunity to reach out to people who feel disenfranchised ... and ask how we can build those relationships.”

Williams said with some of the tensions from last year out of the way, stakeholders were able to focus on the issue without emotion dominating conversations.

“There was a lot of anxiety about a racial conversation. We’ve kind of gotten over that,” Williams said. “Now it’s, let’s do what’s right for the people.”

pmarcus@durangoherald.com

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