Thunderdome 2015: Police body cameras vs. chokeholds

“Thunderdome 2015” is The Colorado Independent’s wrap-up series on the 2015 legislative season. For a series overview, check out “Thunderdome 2015: 120 days under the gold dome.”

Late the night before the session ended, former sheriff and freshman lawmaker Sen. John Cooke, R-Greeley, stood in the well grinning hugely.

He had watched his bill to increase the use of body-worn cameras on police languish so long in the Appropriations Committee that he knew most had written it off as a failure. But at the last moment, Cooke and co-sponsor Jessie Ulibarri, D-Westminster, managed to resuscitate it.

“When you have a former director of the ACLU and a former sheriff together on a bill, that means it’s a pretty good one,” said Ulibarri the next day.

The Senate agreed and gave the bill final passage with whopping bipartisan support, 31-4.

That story of bipartisanship and a very Colorado-libertarian penchant for individual liberties didn’t just put the body cam issue over the top. It applies to every one of the police reforms the legislature passed this year.

With Rep. Angela Williams, D-Denver, spearheading the effort in the House, the reform coalition passed bills to: ensure external investigation and public reporting after a police shooting; enshrine a citizen’s right to record police; add community members to police training boards; and prevent “bad apples” from continuing to work as cops or testify in court.

Not every proposed police reform measure made it across the finish line. Lawmakers weren’t able to strike a compromise on Democrats’ proposed chokehold ban or a measure making it easier to appoint a special prosecutor in cases of violent police misconduct. Legislators also turned down a bipartisan bill that would nullify charges if police on the case had given unconstitutional orders.

“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 when he jumped on the reform train.But even the chiefs and sheriffs say ‘We see it. We need to do something to rebuild from the lack of trust out there.’”

Read “Thunderdome 2015: 120 days under the gold dome,” for the rest of the series. 

A police brutality protestor outside the Capitol dons her gear after a rally in late April resulted in pepper spray and arrests. Photo by Tessa Cheek.