Should Colorado cops be forced to open internal affairs cases to the public?

The Denver Post: A bill working its way through the Colorado General Assembly would force police departments and sheriffs offices to open their internal affairs case files to the public.

Advocates say the bill would improve transparency and accountability within the state’s law enforcement agencies and build more trust from the public. But law enforcement is opposed, saying victims and witnesses might hold back during investigations if they know their statements will become public.

“This is a straight up transparency issue,” said Rebecca Wallace, a staff attorney at the ACLU of Colorado. “Over and over, the courts say that an officer’s conduct where he is interacting with the public are of public concern and do not raise privacy interests for the officer.”

The bill, which has bipartisan support, is expected to have a second reading this week in the House. The bill’s largest hurdle may come from the calendar because the legislative session ends May 9, leaving it crunched for time to get approval from the House and Senate.

Most Colorado police and sheriff’s offices reject requests for internal affairs files, a recent report from the University of Denver Sturm School of Law found. Denver is the only jurisdiction that consistently makes internal affairs case files available upon request, while others deny requests, charge excessive fees or only open portions of the files for public review.

People can take a law enforcement agency to court and ask a judge to order the records to be made public.

“Open records should not be designed so that only those who can afford a lawyer can get them,” Wallace said.

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