Police reform in Colorado is already doing good.
Look for a preview of my upcoming novel’s first chapter later this weekend.
This week I will be reposting an editorial I wrote last month for the Estes Park Trail-Gazette on the topic of police reform in Colorado and how these new laws are already beginning to make a difference in Loveland, Colorado and a new incident that happened this week in Idaho Springs, CO. Officer Nicholas Hanning, a police officer in Idaho Springs, is charged with assault after tasing a 70-year-old suspect. Later this weekend I will begin to release some of the first few chapters of the new novel I have been working on over the past year as a preview.
Change is never an easy thing, and it often comes with a high cost. However, the Black Lives Matter protests that erupted in Denver and across the nation last summer spurred Colorado lawmakers to pass the nation's first police reform bill. Senate Bill 20-217 Enhance Law Enforcement Integrity was signed into law on June 19th, 2020. It was passed with lawmakers hearing demonstrators chanting outside the state capitol for change. The legislation was the first in the country that allowed victims of police violence to sue officers under state law.
The most significant provision of the new law, which had failed to pass in any state until 20-217 passed here in Colorado, is that police officers can now be sued for civil damages if they knowingly violate the law on the job. This, in effect, ended"qualified immunity," allowing officers to be held personally responsible for up to $25,000 in penalties stemming from a lawsuit.
This is something that has Police unions worried and younger officers rethinking careers in law enforcement. Worried that they are liable if they make a mistake in the job. But this is something that everyone from grocery clerks to lawmakers should be concerned with. If any of us makes a mistake in our day-to-day work, we are also held accountable for our actions. Maybe the time has come for us all to rethink how things have been for so long. An apt response to this concern comes from the author of the new law; "If officers are rethinking [their careers] because of the law of integrity and accountability. Then they shouldn't be in the profession as police officers," said Colorado State Representative Leslie Herod, author of the new law, in an interview with The Atlantic. "Their duty is to serve and protect, not kill. It is very important that law officers think before they act."
We have already seen some good come from this new legislation in our neighboring community of Loveland, Colorado. On Wednesday, May 19th, two former Loveland police officers involved in the violent arrest of 73-year-old women with dementia resulted in a fractured arm and dislocated shoulder, were criminally charged, and a warrant issued for their arrest. The next day Austin Hopp and Daria Jalali turned themselves in, and the bond was set at $20,000 and $5,000, respectively.
According to Gordon McLaughlin, District Attorney for the 8th Judicial District of Colorado, the first two of Jalali's charges result from the new legislation. Without the new law, it would have been much more challenging to pursue the charges.
While the DA's office has concluded its investigation, there is an ongoing investigation into the Loveland Police Department and a civil rights lawsuit against both the department and the former officers involved.
The Loveland Police Department is also now undergoing training in de-escalation and Alzheimer's awareness.
The civil unrest of last summer may have been difficult for us all. But, the voices calling out for change needed to be heard, and they were. These first steps of change may be small compared to the work that we all must continue to do. But, we have to start somewhere, and we are already seeing the first signs of real change beginning here in our local communities. We all deserve an equal and fair shot at life, liberty, and the pursuit of the American Dream.
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Jason Van Tatenhove