Prepared remarks: Attorney General Phil Weiser speech to County Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (Jan. 18, 2024)
It’s a pleasure to be with you again. I appreciate your service and would like to talk with you about four important topics: (1) our work on the curriculum redesign for law enforcement training academies; (2) our commitment to supporting your work in developing effective approaches for medication assisted treatment (MAT) in jails; (3) the work of the jail standards commission and possible legislation in that area; and (4) how our office is working to support your existing work preventing and addressing domestic violence, and domestic violence fatalities in particular.
I. The Curriculum Redesign Effort
Many of you have heard me talk about our work on in-service training and the law enforcement training academy curriculum, and I’m pleased to give you an update on the progress we’ve made recently. As a reminder, the Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Board is working with subject matter experts to develop a new, science-based academy program to improve performance in the field after graduation. The goals of this work are to improve law enforcement training across the state and to increase safety for law enforcement officers and our communities.
To accomplish these goals, we will improve how curriculum is taught by incorporating more active and experiential learning, as opposed to the old school “sage on a stage” model. We will also improve the content that’s being taught by incorporating critical mindsets and skills around “emotional intelligence” as well as the traditional core competencies that include arrest control, driving, and other “hard skills.”
To help us advance this work and support our very hard-working and dedicated POST Director Bo Bourgerie, we hired POST Deputy Director Ron Ryan whom some of you might already know from his time as Pitkin County Undersheriff. We also hired Lead Curriculum Designer Gwen Burke. Both Ron and Gwen come to us from long and successful careers in law enforcement. We are thrilled to have them on our team and I know that you will enjoy working with them.
To provide just a little more background, let me review some of our critical steps to date. In one important foundation, we did an inventory of basic job tasks of an entry level peace officer. That job task analysis will help us ensure that we cover all of the essential elements of policing in the redesigned curriculum. We are also committed to ensuring that this curriculum helps instill the mindsets critical to success in law enforcement which I will discuss shortly. And, as noted above, we are committed to ensuring that the relevant skills, competencies, and mindsets are developed through active learning methodologies, which we know create a deeper, ingrained understanding of the knowledge and associated skills when compared to current instructional methods. We are now working with a great vendor, Design for Learning, to ensure that academy instructors can be trained and certified to do just that.
On the mindsets, I had the chance to talk about them last spring at the Glenwood Springs Colorado Mountain Colorado graduation. You can read the whole speech for more of the context, but here are the key mindsets that the POST Board has identified as core to 21st century policing:
- Prioritizing respect for life in all encounters;
- Reducing, preventing, and managing behaviors associated with conflict;
- Demonstrating respect for, and commitment to, the rule of law;
- Recognizing that the primary goal of policing is to promote safe communities through crime prevention and community policing;
- Displaying respect for all;
- Engaging in ethical decision-making and problem-solving;
- Using effective communication
- Developing community awareness and knowledge;
- Taking officer wellness seriously; and
- Possessing situational awareness.
The next several years will be a crucial in making progress on this work. During this time, Gwen will be setting up curriculum development teams to build the redesigned curriculum. The concept is that we can identify leaders to spearhead new model curricula that provide opportunities for the development of the critical skills, competencies, and mindsets. To guide that process, we will provide each committee a template for their work in the form of a number of model curriculum modules—that is, a series of “model modules” that reflects the best practice for curriculum development that we have in mind. In practice, for example, a curriculum on domestic violence investigations can help individuals develop situational awareness, be mindful of officer wellness, and use effective communication. And it can involve a range of real-world learning opportunities, including simulated exercises with actors, acting out situations, or other valid models of active learning.
Once a first draft of a curriculum module is developed, we will be in a position to allow other academies to test it out and offer feedback. In that respect, we will enable an opportunity for continuous feedback and learning, helping us improve the curriculum. In a real sense, then, this redesign is a not a one-time change, but a change in philosophy allowing for ongoing improvement.
I am focused on improving safety for all law enforcement officers and would like to promote three in-service training opportunities: (1) Ethical Decision Making under Stress (or EDMUS); (2) Active Bystander in Law Enforcement (ABLE); and (3) Integrating Communications and Assessment and Tactics (ICAT). Please be in touch with Bo or other POST team members if you are interested in learning more. And you can learn more about these programs in a speech I gave to the recent IADLEST conference here in Colorado.
II. Medication Assisted Treatment in Jails
The leaders in this room are already making great progress in providing inmates treatment for substance use disorders through Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT). As you all know better than anyone, two-thirds of today’s incarcerated population, on a nationwide basis, struggles with a substance use disorder. For some of you, such as Sheriff Robert Jackson in Alamosa, the level is more like 90% And, in what is truly harrowing, for those leaving prison without any treatment, they are at least 40 times more likely than a member of the general population to die from an overdose without two weeks of leaving prison.
Last summer, I visited Delta County to look at how it had implemented its MAT program. This program reflects the vision of Delta County Sheriff Mark Taylor, who stated about the inmates in the jail:
They get the help, the medication and mental health services that they need while incarcerated and when they leave, those services can continue on the outside. Through those services, I’m hopeful if they continue (with them) on the outside, it will help with the recidivism rate.
The Delta County program, notably, not only includes Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT), but also includes in-custody counseling, case management, and Medicaid navigation. Its goal, as the sheriff articulated, is to enable those with a substance use disorder to get on track for recovery and be less likely to commit crimes and harm victims. If implemented effectively, this program is a win for the jail, a win for the individual getting treatment, and a win for the community.
In Colorado, we have funding for MAT treatment services through the Jail Based Behavioral Services program and there are additional funding avenues, too. For every jail, the opportunity exists to follow the lead of what Delta County and others are doing to scale up such programs. In addition to the progress Sheriff Taylor’s made in Delta County, you will hear from Moffat County Sheriff KC Hume and Summit County Sheriff Jaime Fitzsimons tomorrow, along with Jamie Feld, who leads our department’s Opioid Response program. They will talk about an opportunity to recognize and support leading MAT programs in jails across the state.
On the prison front, our department has dedicated $3.96 million of our state share of the opioid response funds from our settlements with Big Pharma to invest in medication treatment, Medicaid navigation, and continuity of care upon release in our prisons, too. We are also going to explore and support programs to provide and train more peer counselors in our prisons. For Colorado to do better in our re-entry results, and right now we are trailing the national average, we recognize the importance of providing more effective drug treatment options.
To appreciate the overall impact of MAT treatment, consider the case study of the state of Maine. Maine went all in on this program for MAT treatment in prisons and scaled up to have universal access to medication for opioid use disorder. The results of this program resulted in fatal overdoses dropping by 60 percent among people leaving prison since the program started. The program has improved prison operations as well, with a drying up of the black market for drugs, fewer fights, and fewer suicide attempts. And it has led more prisoners to seek educational opportunities, too.
III. Jail Standards Commission
I also want to discuss the legislative conversation now happening around jail standards. A few years ago, our department was given the authority to investigate patterns and practices of governmental entities that violate the civil rights of Coloradans. This authority means that we can investigate—and address—violations that occur in a range of contexts, from coroners’ offices to public health departments to district attorneys’ offices to jails.
As a matter of sound governance, I prefer to address problems early and work collaboratively to find solutions when feasible. I know that you are all committed to developing and implementing sound practices in your jails. I also know that resources are often a major issue. For the conversation this legislative session, as you know, the legislature is likely to move in a direction that will provide for some form of state-level assessments of jails. I’ve said I am open to how we can advance opportunities for our department to be involved in this effort to collaborate and identify opportunities for improvements for our jails, including finding creative methods to meet those needs, which may also include funding. I know that these conversations are still taking place, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts on what is before the legislature and how it can be done the right way.
IV. Domestic Violence
Finally, I would like to talk about some of our office’s work around preventing domestic violence. I am well aware that one of the most frequent calls received by your office is about a domestic violence incident. These calls are often dangerous –in 2022, we lost two officers in domestic violence related incidents and many more officers were involved in incidents that turned deadly. My office yearly tracks the number of deaths that occurred in the context of domestic violence. The number of deaths in 2022 was at an all-time high of 94.
Giving law enforcement tools to help identify the situations likely to turn fatal is critical in our fight against domestic violence. That is why our office has invested in helping implement the Lethality Assessment Program (LAP) across Colorado. The LAP is an evidence-based tool of 11 questions that a law enforcement officer can use to assess risk and connect a victim of domestic violence with a victim advocate. We work with former domestic violence detective Mark Deaton who travels across the state to help law enforcement agencies implement LAP. We have established a clear process for communities wishing to receive free training on implementing LAP. Currently, 27 agencies spread in Colorado utilizing the LAP protocol and we hope many more agencies will consider implementing it. The use of LAP has been proven to decrease the incidence of domestic violence fatalities and we hope many of our agencies will consider implementing this life-saving tool. Please feel free to reach out to Bo to learn more and to bring a training to your agency.
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I recognize that law enforcement is under great strains right now and there are a range of demands that continue to impact your work. As I have always pledged, I value communication and collaboration and encourage you to engage with my office. I will continue to fight against unfunded mandates, which I know can be crippling to your agencies. Visiting with Sheriff Aaron Shiplett in Baca County, for example, alerted me to the problem that our state funding program for body worn cameras—which I fought for—was not designed in a way that fit procurement realities. That remains disappointing and something we need to fix. I also look forward to working with you on creative partnerships on a range of fronts, including recruitment, officer wellness, and mental health challenges. I am encouraged by how much innovation and collaboration is happening on the local level by law enforcement. I look forward to supporting your work in the years ahead.