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Police Reforms Getting Bipartisan Support In Colorado

Scott Franz/Capitol Coverage
Protesters arrive at the Colorado state Capitol on Thursday, June 4, to speak out against police brutality following the death of George Floyd in Minnesota.

Last week, Republican Sen. John Cooke of Greeley said he was calling a sweeping set of police reforms being proposed by Democratic lawmakers the “I hate the police bill.”

But on Tuesday, the former sheriff of Weld County had dramatically changed his mind. He said the measure — which will require officers to wear body cameras, intervene when their peers are using inappropriate force and follow several other new rules aimed at stopping police brutality — should now be embraced by all law enforcement agencies.

"Black lives matter. Police officer lives matter. And I'm hoping this bill is the beginning so that no more riots have to occur," Cooke said. "Our country needs to rise above that and we need to come together."

Several amendments to the bill this week helped get Cooke and almost all the other Republican senators to vote in favor of Senate Bill 217.

One significant change will give police departments until 2023 to get their officers equipped with body cameras. The amendment was made after some law enforcement agencies testified that some departments would have trouble purchasing them sooner than that.

The bill is Democratic lawmakers' response to several days of protests over police brutality that have occured in Denver and across the nation. 

The Senate voted, 32-1, on Tuesday morning to pass the bill. It is now heading to the House for consideration.

"This is not about one single incident," Sen. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, said before the vote. "It's not just about Breonna Taylor, who was sleeping in her bed. It's not just about George Floyd. It's about cumulutive, unjusitifed killings of black people, by police."

Fields, who is the vice chair of Colorado's Democratic Black Legislative Caucus, said lawmakers had heard the protesters who have spent several days marching around the Capitol building chanting "black lives matter" and "no justice, no peace."

"They've asked for leadership. They asked for us to respond. And we have," she said. "This is a defining moment in our state... We're talking about holding police officers accountable for misconduct when it elevates to a level of murder."

The police reform bill will also prevent police from firing tear gas into crowds without giving them a warning first. 

A full list of the proposed reforms can be found here.

Gov. Jared Polis said Tuesday he supports the bill. He praised lawmakers for coming together and acting swiftly on the issue.

"This is another example of the collaborative spirit that I think shows what Colorado can do together and how we have more in common than what seperates us," he said.

Scott Franz is an Investigative Reporter with KUNC.
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