Modernizing policing and building trust in law enforcement (April 23, 2021)
As Colorado Attorney General, I am committed to building trust in law enforcement. Our Colorado Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) program emphasizes three basic foundations: supporting recruiting, leading training, and overseeing accountability.
A sound criminal justice system begins with a commitment to recruit the right people into law enforcement. To that end, we are committed to recruiting law enforcement professionals who are dedicated to serving their communities with empathy and ethical decision making. Our best—and the vast majority—of those drawn to law enforcement serve because of their commitment to helping others. They want to make a positive difference, which will be captured in our “My Why” campaign that will tell the stories of individuals serving as peace officers and why they serve.
To support the recruitment of law enforcement professionals, we championed the enactment of House Bill 20-1229. This law allows POST to extend financial scholarships to smaller and rural law enforcement agencies. These scholarships reduce financial barriers for individuals who want to serve and come from the communities they serve so that those entering the academy are more likely to graduate and serve. In 2020, POST awarded $103,000 for such scholarships.
Training law enforcement is another critical focal point of the POST agenda. As a starting point, law enforcement professionals need core competencies to ensure their safety and the safety of their communities. First responders regularly interact with community members who are in crisis. Having the tools to make ethical decisions under stress and to de-escalate volatile situations will improve safety for everyone involved. To that end, we are working to bring the Police Executive Research Forum’s Integrated Communications and Tactics Train the Trainer course to Colorado, giving agencies the capability of develop their own de-escalation instructors.
In an important step forward, we are now looking for a partner who can work with us to deliver an ethical decision-making under stress training program most effectively. For more information on this request for proposals, see here. Such a training might follow a model used in Southwest Colorado, where training in how to de-escalate conflicts—and manage effective crisis intervention training—has shown tremendous benefits for communities. POST has long supported crisis intervention training and will continue to work on improving such efforts.
The overall implementation of de-escalation and implicit bias training is an area now being encouraged by the U.S. Department of Justice. Under the prior administration, we worked with our local U.S. Attorney and the USDOJ Community Oriented Policing Services Office to oversee eligibility for certain federal grants. The certification process for such grants includes best efforts to implement anti-bias and de-escalation training such as those discussed above. To carry out our efforts to meet this goal, and oversee the commitments made as part of the certification, we are in the process of hiring a Police Accountability Compliance Officer who will work with local authorities on just such efforts.
Starting this summer, we envision taking an even more fundamental step in the direction of transforming the training of police officers: we are going to re-evaluate the core competencies of policing and what modules should be taught in Colorado’s police academies. This undertaking begins with a job task analysis. That analysis will be developed after a series investigation of the literature, the state of practice, and guidance of experts on what competencies police officers need to be successful. Following the points above on the importance of de-escalation, we envision that ethical decision-making and emotional intelligence will be valued competences that we will want to develop effective modules to teach. Such modules, we expect, will be developed through collaboration with partnering academies and will involve more opportunities for learning by doing (often called experiential learning).
Finally, we recognize the importance of accountability. Law enforcement officers who discriminate against people due to their race, religion, or sexual identity dishonor the profession. Likewise, law enforcement officers who are deceitful will not be tolerated. Under Colorado law, as pushed for by the POST Board, those officers who are untruthful are now subject to decertification from the profession. Since the law went into effect in 2019, the POST Board has decertified 11 individuals for being untruthful and they are no longer eligible to serve in the profession. POST is also building a database to track law enforcement officers who are decertified and/or were fired for cause. That database is part of the criminal justice reform happening as a result of Senate Bill 20-217. I appreciate the ongoing collaboration with the General Assembly focused on ensuring that we have the tools necessary to provide proper oversight and consequences when officers act improperly.
Together, we can improve community safety, support law enforcement, and ensure equity within our criminal justice system for all Coloradans. –PJW