Legislation introduced to open police internal affairs files to the public

The Complete Colorado: For the second year in a row Rep. James Coleman, D-Denver, is sponsoring a bill to compel police agencies to disclose internal affairs investigations. House Bill 19-1119 was introduced on Jan. 16 and is assigned to the House Judiciary Committee.

Police internal affairs reports documenting complaints against law enforcement officers are supposed to be available to the public under current Colorado open records laws.

But two recent reports out of the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law reveal that it is very rare for Colorado law enforcement agencies to release these files, and that other states with similar laws aren’t experiencing problems when they do so. Coleman’s bill removes the authority of a law enforcement agency to deny inspection on the basis that “disclosure of such records would be contrary to the public interest.”

This is the justification used in almost every denial by Colorado law enforcement agencies. This is despite a 2005 Colorado Supreme Court case that requires agencies to perform a balancing test that takes into consideration things like personal privacy interests, confidential information and “any other pertinent considerations relevant to the circumstances of the particular request.”

Coleman’s bill mandates that any closed investigation “related to a specific, identifiable incident of alleged misconduct involving a member of the public, the entire investigation file, including the witness interviews, video and audio recordings, transcripts, documentary evidence, staff recommendations, and final departmental decision” be released on request.

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