In the summer of 2020, Colorado’s Governor, Jared Polis, signed into law a sweeping law enforcement accountability bill.
This bill, referred to by some as “The Act,” is meant to help build trust between communities in Colorado and law enforcement.
Proponents say that its changes are based on evidence but understand there is a lot of work ahead to help bridge the gap felt by many communities and the law enforcement officials that serve them.
Here’s what you need to know about the bill and how it will change the face of law enforcement in Colorado, as well as what your rights are when you encounter the police as a citizen.
Use of Deadly Force
Previously under Colorado law, an officer could use deadly force if they had reason to believe a suspect was a threat to the public, other officers, or themselves.
This bill changed that and will now require that officers who use deadly force must first face an imminent threat. It is hoped that this change will take out the subjectivity of the decision to use deadly force by an officer.
Officers can also no longer use deadly force to apprehend a suspect who they are arresting for a nonviolent or minor offense. It is now expected that nonviolent tactics will be used before the use of deadly force ever enters the picture.
Clear Warning of Deadly Force
Officers are required to identify themselves as law enforcement and give a clear warning that they will use deadly force if they must. However, they must allow enough time for the suspect to observe the warning when it is issued. Officers do not have to do this if giving a warning would place others or themselves at risk of injury or death.
Protocol for Flee Attempts
Also, in cases where the suspect is attempting to flee, the officers are only allowed to use deadly force if there is an imminent threat of the suspect using a weapon as a part of their escape. Previously, officers were allowed to use deadly force if they believed the suspect to be armed or to have used a weapon in the commission of a crime.
Another change brought about by this law is the way that law enforcement must report and collect data. The Act requires law enforcement agencies to collect and report information such as:
- Racial data on the encounters officers have with the public
- Where interactions between law enforcement and the public take place
- Circumstances surrounding interactions between law enforcement and the public
- When an officer unholsters a weapon or points it as a citizen
- Whether or not an officer fired their weapon
- Details of an encounter where force was used like what led to the encounter and the type of force used
- Any injuries that occur to suspects or officers
Starting in July 2023, the state will begin releasing an annual report containing all of the data collected.
Interventions with Colleagues
Under this new law, police officers will now be required to intervene if a fellow officer is using force that is inappropriate against the public.
If an officer does not intervene when a colleague is using excessive force, they can have their certification revoked. They will not be reinstated unless a court exonerates the officer.
This measure also works to track officers who are fired from sheriff and police departments in order to help prevent them from skipping from force to force.
Body Cameras Are Required
Now, law enforcement officers across the state will be required to wear body cameras either on their person or on the dash of their patrol car.
They must use them during any interaction they have with the general public and can only turn them off when personal information not related to the case is being recorded.
Undercover officers are not required to wear body cameras, neither are members of the Colorado State Patrol that protect the governor. However, any officer working in a jail who is going to perform a task that may require the use of force must wear a body camera.
If an officer fails to activate their body camera or they tamper with body camera footage, then they can face civil and criminal charges under the new law.
Even though this legislation is a good thing, it’s still important to understand your rights if you encounter an officer of the law. These include:
- The right to remain silent
- The right to refuse consent to a search (police can still pat you down)
- The right to a lawyer if you are arrested
- The right not to answer questions about your place of birth or how you entered the country
About the Author:
Andrew Bryant is a well-respected Colorado Springs criminal attorney who has been practicing in the area for years. A Colorado native, he returned to the home he loves after graduating from the University of Kentucky College of Law. Now, he uses the knowledge he gained as an El Paso County District Attorney to fight tirelessly for his clients’ rights. He is AV-Preeminent rated, has been recognized for his work by The National Trial Lawyers, and has been named to Best of the Springs lists by The Gazette for years.