Here’s the good news: about 99.5% of the nearly 14,000 cops in Colorado are not fired for knowingly lying in police reports, when they’re testifying, or during internal affairs investigations, according to Colorado POST, the state regulatory agency for Peace Officer Standards and Training.
Here’s the bad news: 0.5% of 14,000 is still a pretty big number. An estimated average of 70 Colorado cops are fired every year for knowingly lying in an official capacity, POST reports.
A bipartisan bill moving through the Capitol would make sure that smidgen of known liars never get to work as police officers in the state again. It’s already cleared the state Senate, and on Tuesday it passed out of the State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee of the House. It could become law in the next couple weeks.
The bill — SB-166, sponsored by Avon Democrat Dylan Roberts in the House and Rhonda Fields (D-Aurora) and Bob Gardner (R-Colorado Springs) in the Senate — would give POST the authority to revoke the certification of any officer found to have lied on the record — that is, in court, in an investigation or on a criminal document. If passed, the law would apply only to Colorado police officers, meaning that an officer decertified here still could seek police work in another state.
“If we’re going to make sure the public has trust in our law enforcement, penalties should be severe for those law enforcement officers that knowingly make untruthful statements,” said Rep. Roberts, who also works as a deputy district attorney in Eagle County.
POST currently does not have the statutory authority to revoke licenses from officers they know have lied on the record. The agency can only revoke a cop’s certification if that cop has been convicted of a felony or one of 44 misdemeanors.
Rep. Stephen Humphrey, a Republican from Eaton who was one of two “no” votes at Tuesday’s committee hearing, said he’s not convinced POST needs this extra authority.
“It would seem to me that a sheriff or a chief, if (a lying officer) comes to their attention, they fire that individual,” he said, adding, “There’d have to be a big problem in the culture of that agency” for someone to lie and keep their job.
There’s nothing preventing local sheriffs and police chiefs from firing lying officers, but, crucially, there’s also nothing preventing those found to be liars from seeking new jobs with other law enforcement agencies in Colorado. SB-166 would remove the option to simply move on to a new agency because without POST certification, a cop can’t hold any job with arresting authority — and the penalty proposed by SB-166 is permanent.
Colorado’s main law enforcement lobby groups are either formally supportive of the bill or listed as not having a position. No one testified against the bill on Tuesday, which may in part reflect the fact that Democrats control the Capitol now and can — and likely will — pass this bill. So, anyone speaking out against it would not only be publicizing their support for the continued employment of lying police officers, but would be doing so in what would almost certainly be a losing effort.
Two people testified for the bill: Colorado POST Director Erik Bourgerie and Michael Phibbs, chief of the Auraria Campus Police Department. Attorney General Phil Weiser was not in attendance, but sent his support.
“This bill provides the public confidence of knowing unethical police officers are removed,” said Phibbs, whose name, committee Chair Rep. Chris Kennedy joked, was appropriate for the subject. Phibbs was testifying on behalf of the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police, which is a primary proponent of the bill.
Phibbs told the committee that police departments would not apply an “arbitrary standard” to enforcement of the policy, should it become law. The specific circumstances under which officers would be decertified by POST are spelled out in the bill — and, even then, accused officers would have the option to appeal to the POST board and in court.
SB-166’s approval on Tuesday comes just days after Gov. Jared Polis signed a separate bill, HB-1119, which will require Colorado law enforcement agencies to make public the files on completed internal investigations of police interactions with citizens, including alleged incidents of excessive force. Up until now, the vast majority of those files have been kept from the public.
Together, SB-166 and HB-1119 are expected to dramatically increase police accountability in Colorado.
Roberts, who himself works in law enforcement, said that’s a good thing.
“We need to make sure (officers) who do not act with the public trust in mind are punished accordingly,” he said.