The 2021 Colorado legislative session produced a mixed bag of good and not-so-good developments for those concerned about government transparency.
police internal affairs files
One change will impact the release of body-worn and dashboard camera footage, and another might help mitigate the loss of public information caused by the encryption of police radio transmissions. Two additional provisions address public access to records of completed police internal affairs investigations and lists of officers who have credibility issues.
All we want for Hanukkah/Christmas/Kwanzaa (besides world peace, an end to the pandemic and less partisan rancor) are better open-government laws for Coloradans.
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.
One positive development in the current historical moment is the growing awareness and recognition – by citizens, legislators, governors, mayors, and even police chiefs – that there can be little or no public trust, a necessary foundation of effective law enforcement, without both accountability and transparency.
The passage of an historic, comprehensive police reform bill transformed a relatively quiet 2020 Colorado legislative session for freedom-of-information issues into one of major importance.
A bill in the Colorado legislature threatens to significantly weaken the new state law that opened records on completed police internal affairs investigations.
A split screen might be the best way to think about government transparency in Colorado in 2019. On one side is the ground-breaking new state law that opens records on completed police internal affairs investigations. On the other is the trend among law enforcement agencies in our state to encrypt 100 percent of their scanner transmissions.
The killing, Rangely’s first officer-involved homicide in nearly 40 years, was a story town officials didn’t want told. It wasn’t mentioned at the town council meeting the next day. The town manager and the mayor made no public statements about the shooting, and they ignored the Herald Times’ questions in the aftermath about the job status of Kinney and the chief.
It’s unlikely we would have this important new law without research conducted by University of Denver Sturm College of Law professor Margaret Kwoka and DU law students Bridget DuPey and Christopher McMichael, each of whom received the Colorado Society of Professional Journalists’ First Amendment Award.