The most sweeping police reform bill in the country was sponsored in part by North Denver Representative Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez. In the wake of Black Lives Matter marches and increased scrutiny on police brutality, government bodies across the country have been considering various reforms, but Colorado’s has widely been considered the strongest.
“People outside the (capitol) building are saying they want this, and they want it now,” said Gonzales-Gutierrez. Fellow Denver Rep. Leslie Herod was the Co-Prime sponsor in the House. Senate President Leroy Garcia and Senator Rhonda Fields carried the bill in the Senate. Ultimately it passed with strong bipartisan support, passing unanimously from the Senate (with 2 absent) and 52-13 in the House, with almost half the House Republicans siding with Democrats.
The bill is multifaceted and addresses some of the issues raised by protestors after the death of George Floyd:
- Ending qualified immunity for police officers. Before this bill, police could not be sued in a personal capacity for actions taken while on duty. Officers found to have acted illegally can now be held personally accountable and in some cases forced to pay up to $25,000 of fines themselves. Previously, lawsuits were paid out solely by police departments.
- Increased requirement of body camera usage. Originally one of the more controversial components of the bill, this was modified to create exemptions progressive privacy advocates and conservatives both supported. Officers now must turn on cameras when responding to calls. Footage is kept and released within several weeks. Officers who intentionally fail to turn on their cameras when required can face criminal liability charges or other penalties.
- Requirement to intervene. Officers who witness a fellow officer using excessive force are now required to attempt to stop them. Failure to do so is a misdemeanor offense and officers are protected from retaliation for intervening.
- Limits on use of force. The bill bans chokeholds and similar techniques that have been controversial and led to the death of numerous people in police custody across the country. It also limits when an officer can use deadly force.
- Additionally the bill addresses several other concerns such as requiring restrictions on officers who have been found guilty of excessive force in the past from returning to a police force and offering more protections for protestors.
Gonzales-Gutierrez noted that the bill was carried by two Black and two Latino legislators, though the long list of cosponsors also included many others. “Maybe a year ago you wouldn’t have seen all legislators of color on this bill,” said Gonzales-Gutierrez, noting that the current political climate empowered legislators.
Governor Polis signed the bill into law on June 19th.