DEL NORTE- Law enforcement officials from all over the Valley met at the Rio Grande County Sheriff’s office in Del Norte Monday, June 8, to discuss a new bill that has passed the Senate Committee and is being drafted for presentation to the Senate later this week. The bill is currently under review and is being changed significantly from day-to-day.
Colorado Bill SB 20-217, titled Law Enforcement Integrity, was a result of the recent controversy that has rocked the Nation in the after math of George Floyd’s murder by a peace officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota two weeks ago. Local law enforcement from the entire Valley have voiced their unwavering support for peaceful protests throughout the Valley and have, in recent days, allowed demonstrations to occur in the communities of Creede, Del Norte, Monte Vista and Alamosa.
A brief summary of the bill is as follows, “The bill requires all local law enforcement agencies to issue body-worn cameras to their officers and requires all recordings of an incident to be released to the public within 14 days after the incident. Peace officers shall wear and activate a body-worn camera at any time when interacting with the public. The bill requires the division of criminal justice in the department of public safety to create an annual report of the information that is reported to the attorney general, aggregated and broken down by state or local agency that employs peace officers, along with the underlying data.
Each state and local agency that employs peace officers shall report to the attorney general: All use of force by its officers that results in death or serious bodily injury; All instances when an officer resigned while under investigation for violating department policy; All data relating to stops conducted by its peace officers; and All data related to the use of an unannounced entry by a peace officer.”
During the meeting, local law enforcement officials stated their support for the bill but also stated their concerns. Two main concerns of the group of law enforcement members for the bill were stated, “Our main concerns here in Rio Grande County are the privacy of our community and how the departments in rural communities will be able to afford the cameras in time for this bill to be put into effect. This doesn’t just affect the law enforcement officials. This effects the public as well.”
One point made by Monte Vista Police Chief George Dingfelder, “What will happen if we respond to an elderly woman who fell in the bathtub and the footage from that incident has to be submitted to the public within 14 days? How does that protect her privacy? What stops that footage from being posted on every social media platform out there?”
The other question posed by the group was how the departments would be able to afford the equipment needed. Most law enforcement agencies have the body or dash cams in place from previous regulations that were passed several years ago, but departments would need to upgrade in order to meet the data storage requirements highlighted in the bill.
“I am all for having body cams on and I am also for releasing specific footage to the public, but I do not think this bill was written well and it needs to be amended in several areas. We really should be putting our efforts into making a better database that can help us track bad peace officers. Right now, we could hire someone with a violent past and never even know it even though we did a thorough background search,” stated Dingfelder.
Everyone in attendance agreed that the privacy issue was going to cause concern in departments throughout the state and only for the fact that certain footage should not be released to the public not only for their safety but also for victims’ mental health. The bill also relates to any employee who deals with the public which includes the victim advocates who depend on the trust of a victim in order to help them.
“If I go to some of the people I help wearing a camera, they will just shut down and refuse to talk. Not to mention, if footage of a terrible accident is released to the public and the family or friends of that victim see it? I cannot imagine the repercussions of that,” said Rio Grande County Victim Advocate Courtney Author.
“No one is above the law and everyone should be held accountable, including officers of the law, especially officers of the law, but this bill needs to be reviewed,” said Rio Grande Sheriff Don McDonald.
According to House Representative for District 62 Donald Valdez, the bill is being modified to consider the privacy of the public and to consider the cost of the devices.
Colorado Senator Larry Crowder also spoke on the bill stating, “The bill is constantly changing at this point. It is a much better bill coming out of the Senate. In my opinion it was written by someone using crayons at the beginning, but I think we now have it to a place we can actually work with it and it can benefit everyone involved.”
The bill is scheduled to be presented to the Colorado Senate the week of June 8.