Colorado Governor limits law enforcement with new law, then calls for more powers for State Patrol


DENVER, CO – Colorado Governor Jared Polis favors law enforcement officers doing their jobs.  Except when he doesn’t.

In June, Polis signed into law SB20-217, euphemistically named “Enhance Law Enforcement Integrity.”

The bill made sweeping changes to Colorado policing and sought to limit actions of officers.

For instance, SB 20-217 called for all law enforcement personnel to record activities with body-worn cameras, and recordings of incidents with complaints must be released to public scrutiny within 21 days.

In addition, the bill removed qualified immunity as defense to civil action and rendered a peace officer potentially personally liable for up to $25,000 of a judgement.

Also, proactive policing has been rendered unlawful, as law enforcement is only permitted to make contact when there is a “legal basis.”

Also in the bill, law enforcement action is limited “in response to a protest or demonstration.” The terms “protest” and “demonstration” are not defined. 

Furthermore, there is no distinction made between non-violent and violent protests; in other words, violent protests are given the same response limitations as non-violent.

But somehow, when it comes to protecting and clearing the area around the Capitol and the Governor’s Mansion in Denver, Governor Polis has seen his way clear to increasing the lawful abilities of peace officers.

In areas near the Capitol, it is estimated that there are 1,350 people encamped in various tent cities.  The collections of tents increased in the aftermath of the spread of COVID, due to federal recommendations to allow outdoor homeless camps. 

Sweeps of outdoor camps, in fact, apparently fly in opposition to CDC guidelines. 

According to the Colorado Sun:

“Clearing encampments can cause people to disperse throughout the community and break connections with service providers,” the CDC guidance warns. “This increases the potential for infectious disease spread.”

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Observers have seen widespread litter throughout these areas, and at least four people within the homeless population have been diagnosed with rare trench fever, which is usually transmitted by body lice.

Concerns have been raised because these areas appear to be a turnoff to tourism in the Capitol area.

Graffiti, other vandalism, and violence are also a problem.

The Capitol and buildings nearby have been ravaged by graffiti, broken windows and doors, and other damage due to anti-police protests in the area.  The price tag for repairs and cleanup is estimated at $1 million at this time. 

Workers have found that the graffiti takes multiple passes in order to clear it from the historic buildings, and officials believe the cleanup will take months.

Last Thursday, there was a triple shooting close to the State Capitol and next to a homeless encampment at Denver’s Lincoln Memorial Park.  One person died and two people were injured.  The suspect is still at large.

At a press conference Thursday, shortly before the shooting, Governor Polis took aim at the camping, destruction, and violence in the Capitol area.

He spoke of what he considered effects of the illegal activity against government buildings such as the Capitol, saying:

“It’s symbolic. It’s important. And frankly, when it is desecrated we all are desecrated, and democracy is desecrated.”

Polis remarked that he had:

“zero tolerance for unlawful behavior, whether it’s defacing buildings engaging in violence or crimes.”

He added:

“They should be apprehended and they should be charged.”

The Colorado governor called on the city of Denver to clear out the homeless encampments, stating:

“I’m no expert on municipal ordinances, but I believe that is illegal under Denver law.”

He then spoke favorably of the potential for law enforcement response, saying:

We would not only welcome, I would encourage or invite anybody, if there are anybody who has squatted on state property, we would encourage anybody, a law enforcement agency of course, to come remove them.”

He also stated:

“They are welcome to come onto our property and remove tents.”

In a seemingly barbed commentary on local Denver government officials’ inaction, Polis said:

“I’ve asked the Mayor and the City Council, and I really want the City Council to act, and the Mayor, but they’ve, um, I mean, you know, obviously we’ve been asking them for weeks.”

In response, the Mayor’s office issued a statement which read, in part:

“Mayor Hancock and Governor Polis speak weekly, and the Mayor’s Office communicates with the Governor and his office almost daily about the situation outside the Governor’s Mansion, in Lincoln Park and at the State Capitol.

“We currently are in the process of granting the Colorado State Patrol authority to enforce municipal laws on their property.”

Indeed, that has now happened.

Denver Executive Director of Safety Murphy Robinson has issued a delegation detailing specific city ordinances that the Colorado State Patrol, which is overseen by the governor, is now permitted to enforce.

The areas of enforcement are limited to the areas around the Colorado State Capitol and the Governor’s Mansion.  Troopers will now be able to sweep the homeless camps in the area, under the delegation.

This delegation requires individual commissioning of each trooper after unspecified “training” from the Denver Department of Safety and the Denver City Attorney’s office.  Troopers are required to act in compliance with the “Law Enforcement Integrity Act.”

This pilot program will expire October 22, 2020.

Ordinances for which State Troopers can now issue citations include: 

  • trespassing
  • disturbing the peace
  • assault
  • public fighting
  • public urination or defecation
  • destruction of property
  • obstruction of streets
  • possession of graffiti materials
  • dangerous weapons
  • incendiary materials
  • throwing stones or missiles
  • curfew violations

The encampment at the Governor’s Mansion was cleared the day after the press conference, without participation of the Colorado State Patrol.  Polis resides in Boulder, but the mansion is a regular lodging for two of his cabinet members.

So it appears that Polis on the one hand eagerly hamstrings law enforcement in a sweeping manner with SB20-217, yet on the other, he calls for additional police activity and enforcement abilities in the trashed, violence-and-damage-plagued area of Denver’s Capitol and other historic buildings.

It remains to be seen how the limitations on policing due to the “Enhance Law Enforcement Integrity Act” will affect the ability of the Colorado State Troopers to do the job the governor has now called for them to do.


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