Berthoud Weekly Surveyor | Covering all the angles in the Garden Spot

Law enforcement agencies seeing recruitment troubles, spikes in resignations

By: Dan Karpiel | The Surveyor | May 27, 2021 | Local News

It has become a nationwide trend but one that has the potential for significant impacts locally.

Over the course of the last year, in response to several high-profile incidents of alleged police brutality, states and municipalities have been putting forth legislation, ordinances and other requirements to constrain actions taken by law enforcement. Some have gone so far as to refer to the actions as a “war on policing.”

The trend has even had impacts in Berthoud. In response to last summer’s Back the Blue and Black Lives Matter rallies in Fickel Park, several members of the Berthoud board of trustees questioned the actions taken by the Berthoud squad of the Larimer County Sheriffs Office (LCSO) that patrolled the rallies.

While no damage or harm was officially reported at either event to either people or property, trustees attempted to hire an Arizona-based law firm to conduct an external review of the LCSO. The blowback was harsh and served to initiate a recall effort against Mayor Pro Tem Maureen Dower and trustee Jeff Hindman, whose actions on the board were deemed hostile to the LCSO and risked the town’s ability to retain their services, according to those who spearheaded the recall efforts.

The implications of such actions, not just locally but at the statewide level, have resulted in a drop in recruitment and an increase in retirements and resignations in law enforcement. Some agencies are reporting drops in recruitment in excess of 70%.

Last summer, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) signed into law Senate Bill 2020-217, initially sponsored by State Senators LeRoy Garcia (D – Pueblo) and Rhonda Fields (D – Aurora) and Representatives Leslie Herod (D – Denver) and Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez (D – Denver) that curtailed use of force statutes and removed the immunity provisions, meaning law enforcement officers can be civilly liable for up to $25,000 if their actions are deemed excessive.

Polis, when signing the SB217, said, “This is a long-overdue moment of national reflection. This is a meaningful, substantial reform bill … (that contains) landmark, evidence-based changes.”

Not all, however, were supportive of the legislation and argue it has significantly hindered the ability of law enforcement to do their jobs protecting the public. Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith (R), told the Surveyor, “SB217 created an environment of great uncertainty with officers across the state. The fact that this bill was rushed through the legislature resulted in a lack of clarity in what the new use of force standards meant; the Colorado Attorney General was unable to provide any consistent guidance.”

Smith further stated that SB217 contained “drafting errors” (the lack of “ands” / “ors”) that are needed to apply the law. The law also required law enforcement to report a great deal of data, including demographics, of officers’ interactions with the public that Smith said were “so confusing that the Division of Criminal Justice (who is mandated to receive that information from police agencies) halted it’s working group after just two meetings because they couldn’t decipher the intent of the legislation.”

The concern, according to some in law enforcement, is that these new requirements and provisions will make an increasing number of officers hesitant to act in potentially dangerous situations and could potentially lead to increased resignations and retirements and a drop in recruitment, a trend that is beginning to appear across the country in states and municipalities with similar laws on the books.

As Smith explained, “the combination of factors like these and others understandably has more and more officers contemplating whether continuing to answer the call makes sense for them and their families. The bill has created great angst from very good officers and many agencies and officers are becoming increasingly hesitant to get involved unless they are absolutely required to respond and act. Given the climate, it is unfortunate, but somewhat understandable.”

Building upon SB217, in April, Reps. Herod and Gonzales-Gutierrez and Sen. Fields put forth SB21-1250, titled “Measures to Address Law Enforcement Accountability,” in the current session of the Colorado General Assembly. The bill currently under consideration.

The measure, if passed by the legislature and signed by Gov. Polis, would allow officers to use deadly force only as a very last resort, after they have exhausted every de-escalation measure and only if the threat is to the public at large or the officer himself; force would not be allowed if the individual was only a threat or perceived threat, to themselves. The bill also includes a provision to strip funding of law enforcement agencies who shield officers from the civil liability statutes created by SB217. The bill enjoys support from the Colorado chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) but the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police have expressed opposition.

Smith said if SB1250 becomes law, “I expect the stream of retirements and resignations to become more of steady flow. That flow is compounded by the fact that we find recruiting more and more difficult these days. At Larimer County we have yet to see a large spike, but we are seeing a higher percentage simply leave the profession and talk of career changes have increased dramatically.

In a social media post from this week, Smith wrote, “if you value the rule of law along with peace and safety in your community, your only hope is to call your Democratic legislators and demand they stand up to Herod, Lee and the ACLU and side with everyday Coloradans. Otherwise, we will quickly be the next California.”

The Surveyor will continue to follow this story.

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