The Colorado Progressive Coalition and other groups said last week that it is time for the state to step up implementation of an informed consent law enacted last year.
The law says officers must inform an individual that they may refuse a police search before the officers can ask to conduct one. The group plans to launch a campaign and petition to ensure that both civilians and officers understand the new law.
“We are here to talk about how to implement this legislation and ensure that consent to search legislation is not just another law on the books, but instead is a vehicle or a tool to get the changes we are looking for.” the Colorado Progressive Coalition’s Art Way said.
The consent to search law that passed last year as HB 1201 says law enforcement officers must inform an individual of his or her right to refuse a search under the 4th Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure before asking for permission to search.
Way explained that in light of a number of recent incidents of police brutality, including one case where college student Alexander Landau was allegedly beaten by three officers after refusing to allow them to search the trunk of his car, the new law must be aggressively implemented in order to change a culture that’s foundations are not always one of respect, he said.
“It has been six months since the law was passed. Six months is kind of the unwritten grace period. So here we are,” Way said.
The roundtable event was hosted by the Colorado Progressive Coalition and was attended by staff of the ACLU of Colorado, Colorado Public Defenders Office, and the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, among a host of other groups.
Participants focused on two key directions for their efforts, one encouraging Attorney General John Suther’s office to develop better training programs for police officers on the bill and secondly to create public awareness of the law and civilians’ constitutional rights.
Way said that the group would be speaking to Suthers to ensure law enforcement across the state is better trained on the law. Right now officers can be trained, but it is voluntary. He said while training bulletins have been sent out via email to all officers, that notice is unlikely to be enough to develop a culture that respects the law. Others at the table agreed.
“We are going to ask the Attorney General’s Office to come up with video webcast training that they can supply to these law enforcement agencies to make sure they know [about appropriate implementation of the law].”
Co-executive director for the Colorado Progressive Coalition Carlos Valverde said that they would demand that training as part of a petition to Suthers asking him to implement an aggressive training strategy on the law.
Equally important to most members of the group was the public’s knowledge of the law and their rights. In response to a desire for classes, Erik Maulbetsch, campaign director for the ACLU of Colorado, said the ACLU provides know-your-rights classes and would be teaching those who are willing to learn about both the new Colorado law and their rights in general. In addition, he said that they already supply know-your-rights cards but would provide those to groups interested in promoting the consent search law.
ACLU of Colorado Public Policy Director Jesse Ulibarri agreed with Maulbetsch, but said something else besides cards and classes was needed. “From the ACLU’s perspective, for our know your rights training we will incorporate the 1201 changes in the law, but I think that we need to get personal with this. I think we need to be a little more aggressive with this.” He suggested asking individuals who had experienced police brutality to lend their image as a representation of the constitution.
The group now plans to develop an image and banner to promote both the law and the ACLU’s training programs.
Still at least one voice said it was not the responsibility of the people but of the police to know what they should and should not do.
“I don’t want to burden shift. I don’t want us to take on all of the focus and all of the work. This is about the police and the attorney general. We need to focus on them. We are not the problem, it is them. We have to remember to hold them accountable,” a defense attorney said.
Another man who asked not to be named, said it would be a long road to changing a police culture where it is commonplace for officers to ignore constitutional rights.
“It is a multi-step plan: action by the public to assert their rights, a defense of those properly asserted rights that creates a burden on the system where it feeds back into the police culture [as] DAs say, “You are poisoning all of our stops,’” he said.
He said once enough evidence was rendered inadmissible due to unlawful searches DAs would pressure the police departments to change their behavior.