Saturday, June 6, 2020

Who will want to be a peace officer now?

 If you are interested in a career in law enforcement, don’t do it. If you are in it, get out. In my forty years of teaching, practicing, writing, and training in police matters I never thought I would give that advice, but if Colorado Senate Bill 20-217 passes, that advice could not be wiser.

Colorado’s citizens should know that the bill requires all officers to have body worn cameras (BWC) on during all contacts. Police officers do not widely object to BWCs, as they have consistently been to officers’ benefit. But SB20-217 requires the camera on when you call about your suicidal brother, your drug dealing neighbor, or when you want to confidentially report information about a potential school shooter. If the officer fails to turn on their BWC for any contact, even in the case of a sudden ambush, the law presumes that there is police misconduct absent any other evidence.

To ensure that no criminals get hurt during their violent crimes, the bill specifically eliminates the part of the law allowing deadly force when a suspect “Has committed or attempted to commit a felony involving the use or threatened use of a deadly weapon”. The officer must use their telepathic powers of prophecy to know whether an offender will use the next .25 seconds to make their threat “imminent”. The bill also removes a peace officer’s ability to use deadly force “to prevent the escape of a prisoner convicted of, charged with, or held for a felony or confined under the maximum  security rules of any detention facility” unless there is “likely endangerment of human life or inflection of serious bodily injury”, again calling on the officers’ psychic ability which the sponsors of the bill apparently think is taught in the police academy.

The bill severely limits qualified immunity (remaining for all other government actors, just not the police), which has been a well-established protection for reasonable mistakes made in good faith for any government official. Officers are not only disallowed from human error, unlike doctors, lawyers, and accountants, but if they are civilly sued they must be fired as though they had been found guilty of a crime. 

To add to assurance that officers will be uniquely, severely punished, they will not have the benefit of their agency’s insurance coverage and will be personally financially responsible in addition to their loss of career. And, of course, any complaints in the officer will be required to remain anonymous so that the accountability is always a one-way street. Never mind that officers already are subject to federal and state criminal charges, federal and state civil lawsuits, department discipline, and financial disaster as a result of misconduct accusations, even those which ultimately find the officer vindicated.

The bill additionally burdens your local officers and agencies with added paperwork and data reporting that, while possibly beneficial (though by no means certainly beneficial) duplicates much of what is already being reported. You’ll be glad to know as the minutes tick away after your 911 call that your officer is filling out their surveys and will be with you when the mandated paperwork is done. Even with public funds looking dismal,  you’ll be glad to know that the legislator is directing how your police leaders must divert their budgets from crime fighting to managing the new mandates.

Under the guise of reform, the bill’s sponsors are attempting to punish all of Colorado’s 13,000 peace officers for police misconduct everywhere at the cost of the privacy and safety of all citizens.