DENVER – Three bills aimed at increasing oversight on Colorado law enforcement – including expanding the use of body cameras – advanced Monday in the state Senate as legislators respond to public outcry around the country about allegations of police misconduct.
The cameras proposal would encourage departments to use them by creating a grant program to help pay for the devices. Another bill would add civilians to the state-training board for peace officers to give the public more influence over how police agencies operate. A third measure would require law enforcement to have consent or a warrant to seize a citizens’ recording of police activity.
The three bills cleared the Senate Judiciary but still have to make it through the full chamber; the House has already passed the proposals.
The measure to increase the use of body cameras has bipartisan support and stands of good chance of passing.
“I’ve always been very supportive of body cameras because I think it exonerates law enforcement more so than it indicts them,” said Republican Sen. John Cooke, the former sheriff in Weld County and one of the sponsors of the bill. “The thing most people are going to see through the use of these body cameras, 99 percent of the time officers are doing the right thing.”
Cooke is also sponsoring the training measure, which would require classes for law enforcement on things such as bettering community relations with police and de-escalation tactics.
Law-enforcement groups are on board with the training and cameras proposal, but they’ve expressed reservations about the bill outlining residents’ right to record police activity.
Tom Raynes, executive director of the Colorado District Attorneys’ Council, said he supports the right to record law enforcement when they deal with the public, a sentiment echoed by police and many lawmakers. But he said he’s concerned about the civil penalties for which the bill calls.
The bill would require law enforcement to have someone’s consent or a warrant to take a recording. Failing to do that would allow people to seek civil damages of up to $15,000 plus attorney fees from a law-enforcement agency. The measure includes an exception for law enforcement to seize a recording under urgent circumstances.
Raynes said there are already procedures for people to pursue civil recourse when police take or destroy a recording. He described the bill as “a little haphazard and convoluted to implement.”
“Now, if the bill passes as-is, you’ve set up competing civil causes of action, and I have no idea how a court is going to deal with that,” he said.
Also on Monday, the House unanimously passed two other measures dealing with law-enforcement oversight. One would require prosecutors to make public their reports when they decline to press charges in an officer-involved shooting.
The other bill would make it harder for police officers accused of misconduct to jump departments without the hiring agencies knowing about their disciplinary record.
Those two bills need a vote in the Senate to agree with House amendment’s before heading to the governor’s desk.