The state House of Representatives on Monday advanced legislation seeking to build on last year’s police accountability package, setting the stage for a final vote to move the bill on to the Senate.
- broadening the requirement for law enforcement officers to use body-worn cameras to include wellness checks;
- expanding data collection requirements;
- adding flexibility to consequences delivered by the Peace Officer Standards and Training Board for officers who use unnecessary force; and
- removing qualified immunity for Colorado State Patrol troopers, a protection that was stripped from local law enforcement officers by SB 217.
But the chamber’s move to advance the bill past debate and on to a final vote came over the objections of Republicans, who focused the debate on a provision seeking to clarify use-of-force standards by requiring officers exhaust all reasonable de-escalation techniques before resorting to force.
That provision was initially reworked by an amendment from Herod and Gonzales-Gutierrez to lower the standard to replace “reasonable” with “practical.” According to Herod, the use of force on Elijah McClain and Karen Garner were clearly not “necessary and proportionate.”
“But is it necessary and proportionate to use deadly force when someone has a weapon or you think someone has a weapon? Probably,” Herod said. “We are making sure that we allow for those very dangerous situations and encounters, but we also have a clear standard.”
Rep. Kerry Tipper, D-Lakewood, also added an amendment pushing back the implementation date of the new use of force standards to Jan. 1, 2022. According to Tipper, that came at the request of her local law enforcement agencies, which told her they had just finished training to the use of force rules in HB217 and needed to time to get up and running on the new provisions.
Still, Republicans objected to the new use of force standards. As she did during last month’s House Judiciary Committee hearing on the bill, Colorado Springs Republican Rep. Terri Carver led the opposition to the provision, arguing the definitions of the bill standards were anything but clear.
“These rules do not work,” Carver said. “They do not work for clarity, they do not work because of their complexity, they do not work because you have to have a flow chart with definitions to determine what in the world is authorized, not just for deadly force, but for any use of physical force.
“These are badly written rules.”
The ambiguities of those rules would have real-world consequences, according to Montrose Republican Rep. Marc Catlin.
“We're still dealing with life and death, we're still dealing with the blink-of-an-eye decisions,” he said. “Sending an individual into one of those kinds of environments questioning what will be said after this event is over stops them from using the training that they've gotten through their career.”
Herod, meanwhile, countered that the provisions of the bill and some of the amendments the bill sponsors brought were drafted in consultation with law enforcement stakeholders. Kind of.
“This argument now that [law enforcement officers] don't want this or they didn't ask for changes is not accurate,” she said. “They did ask for changes, we just didn't agree on what those changes look like. So, we went with a national standard that has been debated, that is the gold standard that has been discussed at the federal level.”
Carver pushed forward with nine amendments, focused on the use of force standard and the aspects of bill’s provisions on body cameras relating to privacy. All nine were initially rejected, but a Committee of the Whole amendment from Carver removing the new use of force standard and returning it to the one set under SB 217 was approved by the body on the strength of the chamber's GOP votes combined with support from nine Democrats.
One of her Republican colleagues was successful in adding an amendment on body cameras. That came from Assistant Minority Leader Tim Geitner, R-Falcon, who won the chamber’s approval to add a $2 million appropriation to help law enforcement agencies buy body cameras. Rep. Kevin Van Winkle, R-Highlands Ranch, also saw an amendment approved giving media outlets access to encrypted law enforcement radio communications.
The bill is now eligible for a vote on final passage out of the House. Should it win approval, HB1250 would still need to work through the legislative process in the Senate.