Incidents in Colorado and elsewhere show the limitations of HB 19-1119 as a tool of transparency, accountability and for building trust between law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve. More could be done to ensure the public knows when officers are accused of misconduct or of using excessive force, how those allegations are investigated and whether and how discipline is imposed.
Reporters have been more likely to get a no-such-records-exist response since the Colorado legislature in 2016 adopted a simplified and expedited process for sealing the criminal records of defendants who are acquitted or have completed a diversion agreement or a deferred sentence, or their cases are dismissed.
A bill that underscores the public’s right to record police activities was met with opposition from law enforcement authorities and prosecutors who called the measure overly punitive and worried about its effect on their ability to obtain recordings as evidence in criminal cases.
The Colorado Criminal Justice Records Act isn’t as well known or as well understood as its sister statute, the Colorado Open Records Act. That’s why the CFOIC assembled a panel of experts to discuss the law that governs the release of criminal justice records – and to provide tips and workarounds for getting the records you want.
What do you get when you ask three lawyers to discuss the ambiguous aspects of the Colorado Open Records Act and the state’s Sunshine (open meetings) Law? The answer is not four opinions.
State lawmakers defeated a bill that would have made the State Public Defender’s Office subject to the Colorado Open Records Act, preferring to let the Colorado Judicial Branch write its own rules for releasing administrative records for that agency and other agencies under its control.
For the CFOIC, revisiting 2014 reveals a somewhat troubling string of stories about issues and problems affecting government transparency in Colorado. Consider them one by one and you might not be all that concerned. But put them in a list and you could reasonably conclude that open government in the Centennial State is still a work in progress.
Reporter Teresa Benns has endured verbal attacks and threats of physical violence while documenting and commenting on the workings and failings of government in Saguache County and the small town of Center. She perseveres because it’s her duty, she said, accepting the CFOIC’s Jean Otto Friend of Freedom Award.
Colorado’s Sunshine Law defines a meeting as “any kind of gathering, convened to discuss public business, in person, by telephone, electronically, or by (any) other means of communication.” This includes emailing, texting, tweeting, instant messaging, Facebook messaging, Snapchatting and forms of communication that haven’t been invented yet.
The CFOIC presented William Dean Singleton, chairman of The Denver Post, with the Jean Otto Friend of Freedom Award for his sustained and significant record of fighting for open government in Colorado.