Grand County law enforcement leaders talk new police law
The police accountability bill passed in June has local law enforcement concerned about the potential burdens and consequences from the new mandates, which mainly address police officers’ use of force.
Some of the major changes included in the new law prohibit law enforcement officers from using neck restraints, require body cameras, limit the ability to use force and mandate reports and data collection on use of force.
For Grand County law enforcement agencies, one of the biggest impacts could be the time and money it takes to implement the new reporting and data collection rules.
“There’s no doubt that collecting the data we have to collect, potentially implementing more body cameras across the agency over time, reviews and legal challenges, there will be additional costs that we’re going to face,” Grand County Sheriff Brett Schroetlin said. “In addition, our call volume is going up more and more, and our staffing levels are remaining where they were, if not lower.”
As for the limits on officers’ use force, local agencies were already operating on policies that restricted their use of force, so most local law enforcement leaders don’t feel as concerned about those changes as they do other requirements.
Previously, neck restraints were only allowed by law enforcement officers if they believed themselves to be in danger. Now, there are no legally acceptable reasons to use a neck restraint.
“It had been a tool in our toolbox in the past … it was very much a last resort tool,” Schroetlin explained. “I can’t even think of the last time in our county that we would’ve used it.”
The law also restricts use of force to violent crimes, barring officers from using force on anyone suspected of a minor violation. Fraser Winter Park Police Chief Glen Trainor said his officers were already following that standard.
According to data from the FWPPD, officers only used force 21 times last year while making 311 arrests and responding to 4,800 calls. None of the use of force reports involved serious injury or death.
“We cannot do any of this without our relationship with the community and mutual trust, among team members, between town employees and citizens, and it’s something we always strive to be better at,” Trainor said. “Trust takes a long time to gain, but can be lost in a matter of moments … I just can’t stress how important mutual accountability is.”
Another concern with the bill covers a requirement that police must have a legal reason to contact someone, arguing such a restriction could reduce community interactions and make it more difficult to focus on community policing. However, local law enforcement leaders were emphatic that strong relationships with the community will continue to be a tenet of their police work.
“The Granby Police Department is going to continue to interact in the community in the fashion and manner that the community expects,” Granby Police Chief Jim Kraker said. “You will continue to see us in the stores, in the schools and on the roadways … We are not separate from this town.”
For 14th Judicial District Attorney Matt Karzen, his concerns lie mainly in the way the law is written, as he said it will take time to clarify some of the sections, including the part that addresses police immunity.
The law makes peace officers liable in civil lawsuits for up to $25,000 or 5% of the judgement, whichever is less, if they are found to have acted in bad faith and violated an individual’s constitutional rights. With the new law, qualified immunity is not considered a defense in those cases.
“The way it’s worded is going to be very challenging,” Karzen said. “On the (qualified immunity) issue and a couple other issues, I don’t think that any of us are going to know what this means until something happens, court action is taken and a trial judge or appellate judge tells us.”
The law isn’t all concerning, though. All of the law enforcement leaders agreed that a benefit of the new law is it will increase transparency between police and the public.
Starting in 2023, officers will be required to wear body cameras when interacting with the public or making traffic stops. If an incident occurs, the body camera footage must be released within 21 days after the agency receives a complaint.
“We’re using the body cameras on a daily basis at the sheriff’s office and they’re one of the best tools that have entered law enforcement in the last 20 years,” Schroetlin said.
Karzen added that the new law also empowers officers to intervene in excessive force situations and report rule breaking, as well as gives law enforcement leaders more ability to take action against officers who don’t follow the law.
“The mandate to law enforcement is clear and it’s good,” he said. “We don’t have this problem in our judicial district, but … I think it’s an important step in the right direction — both the duty to intervene and the duty to report.”
While Grand County officers have already begun training, agencies will have until 2023 to start collecting data on all use of force, all contacts conducted by peace officers and all unannounced entries by a peace officer.
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