Attorney General Phil Weiser testimony on House Bill 21-1142 before the Committee on the Judiciary, Colorado Senate (May 12, 2021)
Members of the Committee, thank you for allowing me to express my strong support for House Bill 21-1142. I am very grateful for the sponsors—Senator Gonzales and Representative Bacon—for their leadership in bringing this important bill forward. And thank you as well to the proponents of this legislation, including Together Colorado, for their dedication to the continued improvement of our criminal justice system and developing trust in our communities.
After taking office, several community leaders visited with me to describe an example of a young man’s experience with a false accusation and identification through a police show-up. The story of Charles Battle II’s encounter with law enforcement was as powerful as it was painful to hear. And the commitment of the leaders I met with, and their case for better police training through new policies, was compelling. Charles and his mother Sharon represent Colorado at our best—people who endure trauma and find purpose on the other side to help others. Charles, a top-notch student, was subject to an unnecessary and inappropriate show-up and missed his high school graduation because of a wrongful arrest.
How we keep our communities safe and serve victims and their rights while respecting and protecting the rights of all people is one of the most important questions of our time. This conversation is playing out across the country, from urban, to rural, to suburban communities.
Our Department is committed to advocating for fair processes that bring about just results. The changes proposed by this legislation will enhance trust people have in our criminal justice system. Police should be known and admired for their work to protect and serve. That is the future we strive for. I firmly believe that protecting public safety, building trust in law enforcement, and treating everyone fairly are complementary goals. We need to continue working to advance them in tandem with one another.
Working toward that future, we can all agree that the training of law enforcement officers can always be improved and built upon. Our Department oversees the Colorado Peace Officer Standards and Training Program, known as POST. Thanks to this conversation with Together Colorado and others, we partnered with the Denver Police Department and the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office to develop a training for officers on witness identification procedures, including show-ups. This training will be available to all peace officers in Colorado and will launch soon.
Equally important to improving training is the value of improving our governing laws when necessary. I agree with the sponsors and proponents—we need to change the rules of the road here, to ensure we avoid false identifications and ensure show-ups are used only when absolutely necessary. And, when used, the procedures should, above all, be fair. Avoiding unnecessary suggestiveness is a common-sense improvement because otherwise the consequences can be disastrous and, indeed, life-altering. This bill is a meaningful step in the right direction to improve show-up procedures.
I would also like to add my gratitude to the sponsor and bill proponents. I was pleased to see the collaborative process and ongoing dialogue that accompanied this bill as well as the willingness of the sponsors and proponents to work with the law enforcement community to further improve the bill language. This process represents how we work together in Colorado to solve problems—together.
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The Department of Law and I are committed to providing training to officers on best practices and ensuring law enforcement professionals have the tools and instruction they need. In particular, POST will help law enforcement officers learn when show-ups are appropriate and—most importantly—how to deploy their use in a manner and method consistent with each person’s dignity and constitutional rights.
Members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to submit these comments to you today in support of this bill.