Outrage in the wake of police misconduct in Missouri and New York came to Denver this year when one case of excessive force broke after another, leading to the city’s historic $6 million settlement with the family of homeless street preacher Marvin Booker, who was choked to death in 2010 by officers in the Denver jail.
State lawmakers have responded with a slate of police reforms. Spearheaded by Democrats in the House, proposals include increased use of body cameras, a chokehold ban, stricter rules against racial profiling and changing how officer-involved shootings are investigated and prosecuted.
The first proposal to hit the floor with support is a Senate Republican bill sponsored by ex-Sheriff John Cooke from Greeley.
“Ninety-nine percent of law enforcement are dedicated people trying to do their job right, so to have such a negative outlook on law enforcement is just wrong,” Cooke told The Independent. “But even the chiefs and sheriffs say ‘We see it. We need to do something to rebuild from the lack of trust out there.'”
Cooke said he and Republican Sen. Ellen Roberts from Durango were approached by House Democrats looking for Senate sponsors for their police reform bills. Cooke signed onto a few, including a body camera bill. He and Roberts then proposes several bills of their own, which won support from Denver Democratic Rep. Angela Williams, who is leading the police reform efforts in the House.
One of the Cooke-Roberts reforms is what Cooke referred to as the “bad apples” bill.
Right now, if a member of law enforcement is caught lying about an investigation or a use of force incident, they can ask to have the record of the incident sealed in exchange for resigning. But then the officer can apply to a new department or agency without the violation appearing on their background check.
“This takes care of the problem of bad cops jumping from one agency to another,” said Cooke. “It also requires the agency to notify the District Attorney’s office … so that, in effect, that officer can never testify in court again.”
The bad apples bill passed in the Senate and now heads to the House.
Police in riot gear during a police reform protest in Denver, December 2014. Image via DAM Collective.