Colorado lawmakers are contemplating invoice to convene examine into police protest response – CBS Denver

DENVER (AP) – Colorado lawmakers are considering billing to convene a law enforcement response study and training to protect First Amendment rights and ensure peaceful demonstrations. The move comes after activist outrage over Denver and the local police department’s response to racial justice protests last summer over the deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Elijah McClain in suburban Denver.

(Credit: CBS)

The largely peaceful demonstrations in Denver and its suburbs in late May and early June saw tear gas and hundreds of arrests. The American Civil Liberties Union filed lawsuits against the city on behalf of Black Lives Matter 5280 and several protesters allegedly injured by police.

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An amendment proposed by one of the law’s sponsors, Democratic Senator Jeff Bridges, at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Thursday, amended the law that would originally have prohibited officials from considering protests unlawful unless a significant number of demonstrators faced immediate threats of property damage or personal injury.

The bill now provides for a Colorado State Patrol-led study group to evaluate law enforcement response to protests, improve communication between organizers and authorities, and examine costs and insurance for property damage and personal injury.

The research would also aim to “identify methods of distinguishing between legitimate protesters and outside agitators who commit unlawful acts and harm,” according to the amendment.

“What we saw in the cities of Colorado was basically ad hoc and arbitrary. Law enforcement considered something to be an ‘illegal gathering’. And that term wasn’t consistent, ”said Denise Mayes, director of public order at the ACLU Colorado office.

Colorado law includes a definition of a riot, but does not define a lawful or unlawful gathering, which is why the ACLU is supporting the establishment of a study group to look at these issues, Mayes said.

(Credit: CBS)

The group would also assess and strengthen law enforcement training requirements on first adjustment rights, crowd control, stress management and other skills to ensure peaceful demonstrations. The bill would require the group to report its findings and recommendations to lawmakers on or before January 1, 2022.

Steve Garcia, a major at Colorado State Patrol, said the agency would involve law enforcement, prosecutors, and protest and community leaders in the discussions.

Democratic Senator Julie Gonzales, vice chairman of the committee, asked why the state patrol should lead the study, since the bill and amendment were “introduced in response to those who criticized law enforcement”.

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In response, Garcia said the study would assess issues that help achieve “procedural justice”, including voice, respect, trustworthiness, and neutrality.

Garcia allowed law enforcement to lead the conversation, saying it would help restore police legitimacy by allowing more direct community engagement.

Gonzales also pushed back the content of the study, noting that there had been talks about the role of law enforcement in the community, extremism, and the role of the First Amendment – but none had delved into these issues internally.

“Where is the place where law enforcement can talk about extremism?” She said. “I’m asking the question because last summer community members came to me to talk about three percent within the National Guard, three percent who were on law enforcement.”

The three percent are an anti-government militia group that was part of the extremists who stormed the Capitol on January 6th.
Stephen Schulz, president of the Colorado Fraternal Order of Police, said he did not know whether law enforcement extremism would be included in the State Patrol-led study.

Gonzales also asked the witnesses if this was an issue worth talking about.

“If there are bad actors in law enforcement … if brought forward, they will be investigated by the authorities and matters will be handled as they should be,” said Schulz. “As for extremism in law enforcement, I have no answer.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee passed the law on Thursday and it will be voted on at a future meeting.

By PATTY NIEBERG Associated Press / Report for America

Nieberg is a corps member of the Associated Press / Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a not-for-profit national service program that lets journalists report undercover issues to local newsrooms.

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