Should the Denver Green Party support SB 20-217? We find ourselves able to, even with the very paltry array of reforms the bill provides. Is it a step in the right direction? Not really. Many have looked to the introduction of SB 20-217, which would not even become effective until 2023, as a pathway to legitimate police reforms. However, we feel that in politicking, much has been left off the table.

Essentially all that Colorado residents get is a prohibition against chokeholds, body cameras to be used at the discretion of the officer, and a database to be submitted to the Department of Public Safety.

In short:

  • Mandatory use of body cameras “at any time when interacting with the public” has been stripped. Instead, police officers would have the sole discretion on when to turn on the cameras, or when interaction is not “case related.” Therefore, the public would have no record of any initial interactions that may demonstrate racial profiling or other bias the officer may hold which would have prompted the contact in the first place.
  • Footage from body cameras released to the public has now been extended from 14 days to 21 days, which gives police departments more time to craft their rebuttals to public outrage.
  • The annual report of incidences was originally intended for submission to the Attorney General, who the public elected and who would conceivably be a more neutral recipient of the data. Now the reports are to be collected and disseminated within the Department of Public Safety, essentially allowing the police to police themselves.
  • Police officers now must be actually convicted of a crime of using or threatening unauthorized force before termination and de-certification.
  • The bill still allows police to use projectiles and chemical weapons against protesters, albeit with a prior warning.
  • The prohibition against a chokehold is maintained
  • Use of deadly force is still according to the discretion of the officer.

With the political control that the Democratic Party in Colorado enjoys, this could have been an opportunity for sweeping reforms that would have had a lasting effect. We could have seen:

  • The demilitarization of the police and a prohibition against participation in the federal 1033 program, which provides free military-grade equipment to local law enforcement.
  • The immediate removal of HALO cameras, shot spotters, license tag readers, police drones, red light cameras and other equipment used to conduct surveillance on Denver residents.
  • A prohibition against membership in, display of, or sentiments toward any ideology that calls for racial separation of “white” people from communities of color.
  • Authorization for municipalities to de-certify police unions and a method to dismantle local law enforcement agencies.
  • Overturning “qualified immunity” as a defense by police who inflict violence.

It is a futile exercise to talk about the “bad apples” among police. Given the neoliberal penchant of policymakers, of clamping down instead of addressing the root causes of unrest, the Democrats who largely control our cities have passed their responsibilities onto the police. This situation creates more structural violence in our communities, when departments who attract authoritarian-oriented people with fundamentally pejorative attitudes toward people with disabilities, the homeless and the working class of all stripes are tasked with “dealing with” people suffering the worst of the ravages of neoliberal austerity that directly impacts these same communities.

The Denver Green Party imagines a different Colorado, of economic justice and the direct confrontation of racist attitudes among “peace officers.” We call for a redefinition of safety via investments in community-based conflict resolution and mental health crisis de-escalation, as opposed to increased policing and surveillance. We call for infrastructure investment and a re-prioritization of bond spending, with priority given to underserved communities. We call for affordable housing, a direct confrontation of white supremacy, jobs with living wage salaries and the end of the neoliberal austerity project to be replaced with community control of the police beyond oversight committees.

We encourage everyone disappointed by the scantiness of SB 20-217 to come and build with the Denver Green Party. We have a track record of putting the most progressive candidates on the ballot who call for real solutions, and if you are tired of the less-than-half measures proffered by elected Democrats, come and organize with us toward a different Denver.