This Is How Colorado's Criminal Justice System Just Changed

Governor Jared Polis signed a passel of bills related to the criminal justice system on July 6.
Governor Jared Polis signed a passel of bills related to the criminal justice system on July 6. colorado.gov
"Governor Polis Signs Bills to Power the Colorado Comeback," trumpeted a July 6 release from the office of Colorado's chief executive. But while Jared Polis inked legislation keyed to health care and other pandemic-related topics on that date, some of the most sweeping measures he signed were related to the state's criminal justice system, including an expansion of last year's landmark Senate Bill 217, passed in the wake of protests over the murder of Minnesota's George Floyd, and new barriers to the use of ketamine during arrests, prompted by the 2019 death of Elijah McClain.

The introduction to Senate Bill 21-1250, sponsored by representatives Leslie Herod and Serena Gonzales-Guiterrez, as well as senators Rhonda Fields and Bob Gardner, notes that the SB 217 sequel is intended "to provide clarity and address issues discovered since the passage of the bill."

For one thing, it moves up the requirement for all local law enforcement agencies in Colorado, as well as the Colorado State Patrol, to provide body-worn cameras for its officers to July 1, 2022 — a full year sooner than the original date of July 1, 2023. SB 1250 also changes the requirement that body-worn camera recordings be released within 21 days from the date of a misconduct complaint to within 21 days of the "request for the video recording" — a shift that will presumably speed up the timeline considerably. Moreover, the sanctions for an officer who fails to activate a body-worn camera will go into effect immediately, rather than waiting until the July 1, 2022 deadline. As a result, cops who are already wearing body cams won't get off the hook if they neglect to hit the "on" switch over the next year.

Cops who are accused of failing to intervene in incidents involving serious bodily injury or death will now have their certification suspended for a year rather than be permanently decertified, and a process will be created to allow them to argue their case before an administrative law judge. But SB 1250 also "prohibits a peace officer's employer or the employer's agent from discharging; disciplining; demoting; denying a promotion, transfer, or reassign; discriminating against; harassing; or threatening a peace officer's employment because the peace officer disclosed information that shows...a danger to public health or safety, or a violation of law or policy committed by another peace officer." Likewise, law enforcement officials "are required to intervene to prevent or stop unlawful force by another peace officer," but only if they're on duty.

Polis also signed House Bill 21-1251, or Appropriate Use of Chemical Restraints on a Person, which states that "when a peace officer is present at the scene of an emergency, an emergency medical service provider (EMS provider) authorized to administer ketamine in a prehospital setting shall only administer ketamine if the EMS provider has: weighed the individual to ensure accurate dosage or estimated the individual's weight with the agreement of 2 personnel trained in weight assessment if the EMS provider is unable to weigh the individual; training in the administration of ketamine; training in advanced airway support; equipment available to manage respiratory depression; and equipment available to immediately monitor the vital signs of the individual receiving ketamine and the ability to respond to any adverse reactions."

In contrast, a federal bill sponsored by U.S. Representative Joe Neguse would ban ketamine use during arrests entirely — which is why Sheneen McClain, Elijah's mother, prefers it to the Colorado version. As her attorney, Qusair Mohamedbhai, told us last month, "Ms. McClain was neutral when it came to her support of the Colorado version of the ketamine bill, because it simply didn't go far enough."

Still, Herod is celebrating Polis's signing of HB21-1251, which she sponsored in conjunction with Representative Yadira Caraveo. "We took a significant step forward in our state to improve policing and end the misuse of ketamine, which has had dangerous and deadly consequences for Coloradans," she says. "No longer will law enforcement be able to direct paramedics to administer a potentially deadly drug, especially for a condition of ‘excited delirium,’ the diagnostic validity of which is disputed by medical professionals. I applaud Governor Polis’ support for this bill and for working to stop the misuse of chemical restraints in interactions with law enforcement."

Here are the other criminal justice system bills signed by Polis on July 6:

HB21-1315: Costs Assessed To Juveniles In The Criminal Justice System

SB21-271: Misdemeanor Reform

SB21-071: Limit The Detention Of Juveniles

HB21-1209: Parole Eligibility For Youthful Offenders

SB21-146: Improve Prison Release Outcomes

HB21-1069: Enforcement Of Sexual Exploitation Of A Child

SB21-088: Child Sexual Abuse Accountability Act

HB21-1214: Record Sealing Collateral Consequences Reduction

SB21-138: Improve Brain Injury Support In Criminal Justice System

HB21-1280: Pre-trial Detention Reform
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts