Amid protests, Colorado lawmakers float bill to counter police brutality – The Denver Post
Colorado lawmakers returned to the Capitol on Monday, walking past spray-painted messages like “good cop = dead cop,” mere hours after the building’s grounds were covered with a massive crowd of protesters and tear gas filled the air.
For portions of the day, a spectator inside the building would have had no reason to think that anything has changed recently even as as outside protesters trickled onto the Capitol lawn for a fifth day of unrest over George Floyd’s death. In the Senate, lawmakers debated a bill concerning union powers. The House took up a slew of bills, including one proposing to change standards for how egg-laying hens are housed.
But some lawmakers, already swamped by a myriad of coronavirus-related challenges — among other tasks, they’re trying to quickly pass a budget with about $3 billion in cuts — say that the message of the protests is not lost on them, and that they intend to take action.
Rep. Leslie Herod, a Denver Democrat who has joined protesters downtown during the day, is planning to introduce a bill as soon as Tuesday that she said is aimed at addressing police brutality and accountability in Colorado by removing the shield of immunity for prosecution from law enforcement officers found to have acted unlawfully. It would allow them to be sued in their individual capacities; currently attorney fees and settlements are paid out by cities and counties at taxpayer expense.
The news organization Denverite, reporting a snapshot of an eight-month period, found in 2017 that $2.78 million in taxpayer money had gone to eight Denver Police Department settlements.
“I believe law enforcement should be held to a standard of integrity, respect and responsibility and the bill will reflect that,” Herod told The Denver Post on Monday. “We need to ensure that law enforcement officers who act outside of their authority, who harm and murder people, especially people of color, unlawfully, are held accountable.”
Herod said a Denver Post investigation into police shootings across the state sparked conversations about the issue at the beginning of the session, and since the killing of George Floyd, lawmakers have brought those conversations back. She also said she’s working with the black and Latinx caucuses, and that Senate President Leroy Garcia, a Pueblo Democrat, is working with her on the bill. That his name will be attached is an indication not only of where he stands on the bill but of the odds that it gets passed; a member of leadership generally has power to ensure their bill gets a serious hearing in a way other members may not.
Garcia’s remarks about police violence and public trust in law enforcement have been significantly more pointed than those from Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and Gov. Jared Polis.
“This isn’t just about what’s going on in other states,” Garcia said. “This is about what’s happening in our own backyards. And sadly, we shouldn’t need body cams and people using their cell phones to catch the lack of integrity. We must address the issues that are associated with police brutality and this bias or it’s going to erode the profession.”
Garcia said law enforcement agencies in Colorado do a good job when first hiring officers to ensure they meet standards, but they need to continue to monitor them.
He said he believes most cops are heroes but added in an interview Monday: “We have officers who lack integrity and violate the law, every day, that they’re sworn to uphold. We should care about that as elected officials.”
Other lawmakers spoke publicly Monday on the protests, including Rep. James Coleman, a Denver Democrat who from the House floor called for holding “law enforcement officers who abuse their privilege accountable,” and who condemned rioting but said he supports the right to protest.
“I’ve had to talk to my son,” said Sen. Rhonda Fields, an Aurora Democrat who sits on the Black Caucus with Coleman. “We have to teach our young men how to behave when you get pulled over by the police, because if you don’t, you might end up not being about to breathe.”
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