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Colorado Gov. Signs Bill Ending Qualified Immunity For Police

Denver, CO – Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed SB-217 into law Friday, ending liability protections for police who don’t violate the law.

The legislation was proposed after violent protests and riots broke out across the United States in response to the death of 46-year-old George Floyd in the custody of the Minneapolis police.

Senate Bill 217 – the Enhance Law Enforcement Integrity Bill – calls for multiple dramatic changes to the manner in which policing is conducted across the state.

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Under the new law, every officer in the state will wear a bodycam by July of 2023, and bodycams are required to be activated whenever officers respond to a call, the Denver Post reported.

Failure to activate the camera could result in criminal liability or other penalties.

The law also creates timelines for the release of bodycam footage to the public.

SB 217 also requires officers to intervene if they see another officer using excessive force or face a class 1 misdemeanor or greater charge, according to the Denver Post.

The new law also removed qualified immunity protections for police officers.

Qualified immunity protects police officers from being sued personally if they didn’t violate established law in the course of their duties; their departments may still be sued.

Removal of the qualified immunity protections allows officers to be personally sued even when they didn’t break the law.

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If a police department determines that an officer acted in bad faith, they may hold the officer accountable for up to 5% or $25,000, whichever is less, of the settlement or judgement collected by a plaintiff, the Denver Post reported.

This leaves officers with no due process to avoid fines outside of their police department’s review. A police department may offer a large settlement to a plaintiff and then force the officer to pay 5% of it.

SB 217 bans chokeholds and carotid control holds, and would ban the use of deadly force against someone for a minor or nonviolent offense.

It also changes the standards of deadly force to say it can only be used as a last resort when absolutely necessary and it cannot be used against a fleeing suspect unless he poses an immediate risk to the officers, according to the Denver Post.

The legislation calls for officers to lose their Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) board certification permanently after having pleaded guilty to an inappropriate use of force, failure to intervene to stop excessive force, or after having been found civilly liable for excessive force or failure to intervene.

The law also requires the creation by the state of a database of officers who have been decertified, fired, found to be untruthful, or repeatedly failed to follow training requirements, the Denver Post reported.

Going forward, the law requires all law enforcement agencies to track all of their contacts with the public and report it to the state for use in a statewide searchable database, including use of force resulting in serious injury or death, stops, unannounced entries, and use of firearms, along with the race and ethnicity of the person contacted.

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Failure to comply could result in individual agencies losing state funding, the Denver Post reported.

SB 217 also gives the Colorado Attorney General the authority to go after persistently bad police departments and officers.

In response to recent concerns about how violent protesters were handled by authorities in Denver, the new law bans the use of tear gas against protesters without first warning them and giving them an opportunity to clear the area, the Denver Post reported.

It also prohibits officers from shooting rubber bullets at a protester’s head, torso, or back, or from shooting them indiscriminately into a crowd.

SB 217 takes much of the decision-making out of the hands of local police chiefs and puts it in the hands of the state, the Denver Post reported.

Justin Nix, an associate professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, told the Denver Post that he thinks that is a good thing and that other states will follow Colorado’s model.

“The level of government that’s best suited to reform police right now is the state government,” Nix said. “I expect that we will see states move pretty quickly to some of the reforms similar to what Colorado is doing.”

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Written by
Sandy Malone

Managing Editor - Twitter/@SandyMalone_ - Prior to joining Blue Lives Matter, Sandy wrote the Politics.Net column for the Wall Street Journal and was managing editor of Campaigns & Elections magazine. More recently, she was an internationally-syndicated columnist for Conde Nast (BRIDES), The Huffington Post, and Monsters and Critics. Sandy is married to a retired police captain and former SWAT commander.

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