Stripped-down law enforcement whistleblower protection bill clears for preliminary vote in Colorado House • Colorado Newsline

The Colorado House gave preliminary approval Thursday to a new version of a bill that would provide protections for law enforcement whistleblowers after a tense floor debate.

The original House Bill 24-1460 would have required law enforcement agencies to investigate allegations of misconduct against their officers and banned retaliation against any official who files a complaint.

An amendment from the bill’s sponsors – which completely counters the old language and creates new language for the bill – would create a working group that would continue discussions with interested parties to determine what more needs to be done regarding law enforcement retaliation and whistleblower protection.


It would also require the Colorado Peace Officer Standards and Training Board to revoke or suspend an officer’s certification if a judge determines they covered up a case of misconduct or retaliated against someone who reported alleged misconduct. If retaliation is proven, an officer whose name is incorrectly flagged in the POST database can use the retaliation as a defense to have it removed. The POST database allows the public to view police certifications, firings and dismissals, investigations and credibility disclosures, among other disciplinary actions against individual officers.

The bill also clarifies that body camera footage showing officer misconduct must be released unedited and free of charge to the public. Much of the language in the bill on whistleblower protections mirrors language already in Colorado law whistleblowers in healthcare.

Sponsors passed the bill at the request of law enforcement officials across the state, who say they have experienced retaliation. In particular, lawmakers repeatedly mentioned McKinzie Rees, a former Edgewater police officer who was ultimately labeled “false” in the POST database because the allegations she made against a superior officer were not taken seriously, Rees said. The officer she claimed assaulted her pleaded guilty to counts of unlawful sexual contact and official misconduct in January.

Under the latest version of the bill, Rees would be able to have her name cleared from the database, which she has so far failed to do despite her alleged attacker’s guilty plea.

Definition of retaliation

State Rep. Leslie Herod, a Democrat from Denver, said she and co-sponsor State Rep. Jennifer Bacon, also a Democrat from Denver, have “stripped this bill to its core” after continued resistance from law enforcement leadership.

“Everything else that was originally in the bill has been taken out,” Herod said in the House of Representatives. “Not because we want to, but because we realized that we need to have other discussions about it.”

Herod said law enforcement officials oppose the possibility of criminal charges for officers who fail to report alleged misconduct, and the ability for someone to file a lawsuit against a department if it fails to investigate. The bill’s sponsors removed these provisions in hopes of additional discussion with the newly proposed working group.

“What we have now is a working group and a clear definition of retaliation, in addition to the ability to be removed from the database if you can prove that you have been retaliated against,” Herod told Newsline.

Many representatives expressed concern about the bill’s last-minute consideration – as was the case during Judiciary Committee hearing on the bill — but sponsors of the bill said they have continually tried to contact interested parties who oppose the bill. Herod said many opponents of the bill said sponsors were unwilling to participate, while she said their experience was the opposite.

“We have been told that we are the ones who have refused to participate, and that is just gaslighting at its finest, and really shines a light on what is happening to these people every day,” Herod said in reference to the whistleblowers. .

Herod said officers who have been retaliated against have also asked law enforcement groups for input on the bill and have also been denied any discussion about the bill. She expressed frustration that law enforcement agency representatives had time to review and support an amendment to the bill introduced by Republicans, but did not want to review the updated version of the bill. The Republican amendment failed in the House of Representatives.

Bacon said the new bill is a direct result of the feedback she and Herod heard on the bill. She said that while she believes that working with interested parties is an important part of the legislative process, lawmakers do not need to delay legislation or seek consent from interested parties if a bill does not receive universal support.

“Show me in the law where it says I have to talk to someone before I pass a bill. It’s my job to make laws, not the lobby’s,” Bacon said. “So I don’t need permission, and I don’t need a fixed timeframe. My job is to respond to the community that said to me and to many of you, ‘I can’t move forward.’”

She added that while people are welcome to disagree with the bill’s approach, refusing to communicate with the bill’s sponsors won’t change anything. According to Bacon, the written inclusion of a working group in the legislation will ensure that all interested parties will have meaningful conversations.

Opposition remains

State Rep. Ryan Armagost, a Berthoud Republican, said all entities involved in law enforcement should be proactively involved in bills that affect their officers.

“This bill would be great if it came back next year in a bipartisan way, with someone with a law enforcement background being part of this bill, to make it something that it can be without harming the people we’re trying to protect,” said Armagost. .

Rep. Mike Weissman, an Aurora Democrat who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, said while concerns about the process are valid, the substance of the policies the Legislature passes are more important.

“I think this amendment is about the least we can do in response to the concerns raised by the sponsors,” Weissman said. “All we’re saying here is that if you retaliated against another peace officer, maybe you shouldn’t have that privilege and that certification.”

While discussing the bill in the House of Representatives, Herod read an email sent to the law enforcement lobby that inadvertently involved her: “I truly believe that if we hang in there, we can kill this thing no matter how they framing it. Do not freak out.” She did not identify who sent the email.

Herod said current law enforcement officers who testified in favor of the bill at the Judiciary Committee hearing were retaliated against by their departments in the following week.

“The Colorado Springs Police Department sent an email to all of their police officers saying they were going to work with their attorneys to discredit the whistleblowers’ stories,” Herod said. “Additionally, some people who worked in different departments and different agencies have said that they have been told directly that they will continue to experience these types of toxic work environments if this bill does not pass.”

Newsline requested information about the email from the Colorado Springs Police Department, but did not receive a response at the time of publication. A reporter sent a public records request to obtain a copy of the email that mentioned Herod.

A group of law enforcement and local government organizations opposed the bill proposed another working group they agreed to participate as long as the current bill did not end up in the House of Representatives in any way. These organizations include the Colorado District Attorneys’ Council, the Colorado Fraternal Order of Police, the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police, County Sheriffs of Colorado, Colorado Counties, Inc. and the Colorado Municipal League.

A spokesperson for those involved in the bill said their position did not change after the sponsors’ amendment because the language of the new bill is “inadequately vetted, irresponsible and full of unworkable language and unintended consequences,” said Sean McCauley, Colorado FOP employment attorney. a separate letter to legislators.

“If it continues in this form, employees will rely on this language and wrongly so I believe it provides legal protection, but that is not the case,” McCauley said. “These officers will remain unprotected due to serious gaps in the current proposed legislation. This is too important to go wrong.”

The bill will be voted on in the House of Representatives in the coming days. Herod said she is grateful to the whistleblowers who helped draft the bill for coming forward, and for consistently being at the Capitol to talk to lawmakers and ask for their support.

“We’ve been told over and over again that the only thing a good cop hates is the bad cops,” Herod said. “This bill will support those good cops, and we don’t understand why we keep hitting the brick wall of opposition.”

The parliamentary term ends on May 8.