Every now and then, you send your representatives off to the state capitol and though they do not write when they find work, they manage to stay out of trouble long enough to do something good. It is heart-stopping, really. We told you recently about the state’s new net-neutrality bill, which was passed on the strength of common sense (although not without dissenters). Now Colorado is poised to do something just as practical and wise, and this time with bipartisan support. Does the sun still rise in the east?
Apparently so. Senate Bill 166, approved by both chambers, is sponsored by Rep. Dylan Roberts, a Democrat from Avon; Sen. Bob Gardner, a Republican from Colorado Springs; and Sen. Rhonda Fields, a Democrat from Aurora. What might they have to agree upon?
Their bill says, sensibly, that if Colorado police officers lie in the course of their duties, they can never work as officers in Colorado again.
Can we outlaw lying by public servants? What a splendid idea. In fact, the bill stipulates that if police officers are found to have bent the truth in a report, in testimony or in an investigation, Colorado’s Peace Officer Standards and Training Board must permanently revoke their certification. The officers could still take their lying carcasses across state lines to find police work, but we hope not.
Was this a problem before? According to POST data obtained by the Colorado Independent, “about 99.5% of the nearly 14,000 officers in Colorado are not fired for knowingly lying in police reports, when they’re testifying or during internal affairs investigations ... An estimated average of 70 Colorado police officers are fired every year for knowingly lying in an official capacity.”
We would settle for just .05% of police officers being bad if there were consequences. We would be grateful if .05% of the members of Congress were bad, which would be 2.675 members or two bad members, and one mostly bad but with a redeeming quality. We would be relieved if just .05% of all the city councilors and school board members in Colorado were not fit to serve the people.
But when we delegate people to see that the laws are respected and give them broad latitude to do it, including the use of deadly force, we must hold them to an even higher standard. It is one of the ways we build trust in law enforcement, which we are obligated to do because the alternative is too awful to contemplate.
Colorado may get to do that with S.B. 166. We hope so. Like net neutrality and unlike complicated finance schemes and poorly disguised taxes, this is the kind of work we want to see the Legislature accomplish. It is also what some or even many legislators of both parties, good men and women, aspire to do.
Gov. Jared Polis already has signed into law House Bill 1119, “Peace Officer Internal Investigation Open Records,” which says police departments and other law enforcement agencies must make public completed internal investigations of officers, bringing the information out of the shadows and better protecting those they are sworn to serve. The lying bill makes a fine companion. Taken together, they would represent a good piece of work for one session.