Polis says he’ll sign police transparency bill — to watchdogs’ relief

Lawmakers have passed a bill to require greater transparency from Colorado law enforcement agencies. (Photo by Chocolate Disco via Flickr)

Advocates for government accountability were alarmed to learn Gov. Jared Polis was undecided on whether to veto a bill to expand police transparency in Colorado.

But Polis spokeswoman Maria De Cambra set the record straight late Wednesday.

“We’re not going to veto the bill,” she said. “It will be signed.”

The signing is slated for 10:50 a.m. Friday at the Capitol, and it will be open to media, De Cambra said.

Polis is allowed to wait 10 days to sign bills, which gives him until Saturday in this case. In an earlier call Wednesday, De Cambra had said that the governor was still undecided.

The bill — HB-1119, sponsored by Democratic Denver Rep. James Coleman — would require Colorado law enforcement agencies to open the files on completed internal investigations into a wide range of police interactions with citizens, including alleged incidents of excessive force.

This would mean the public, media, lawyers and any other interested parties would, through open records requests, get a glimpse at how Colorado cops police themselves. As it stands, the Denver Police Department is the only Colorado law enforcement agency that consistently releases comprehensive information following internal investigations.

The bill passed the House and Senate and has been sitting on the governor’s desk for about a week, awaiting the final signature needed to make HB-1119 state law.

The governor, sources close to the matter said, has been pressured to veto the bill by some groups who opposed the bill to begin with, including the Fraternal Order of Police, the state’s largest police union. The FOP did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday. It previously called this legislation “poorly crafted” and said it was introduced “for the purpose of enhancing civil lawsuits.”

Upon learning Polis was not necessarily on board with the bill, the Colorado Press Association — one of the primary backers of the bill — sent out an email to its members that called the situation “urgent” and implored journalists and editorial boards to speak out now in support of HB-1119.

Media in the state have heralded the bill as a key step toward transparency from an institution that shrouds much of its accountability system in secrecy. The Denver Post’s Noelle Phillips testified in support of HB-1119 this year.

“We’re not in the business of officer-shaming for the sake of sensational headlines,” Phillips said. “Rather, we want to hold police officers and their commanders accountable for their actions.”

The effort’s other supporters include the ACLU and Colorado Common Cause, the libertarian Independence Institute and media groups such as the Colorado Broadcasters Association and the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition. Colorado Independent Editor Susan Greene testified last year in support of a version of the bill.

On Facebook, the Colorado Press Association posted Wednesday: “This bill represents a reasonable compromise balancing officer privacy with transparency. We strongly encourage the governor to not make this his first veto considering his history of supporting openness in government agencies funded by taxpayer dollars.”