Prepared remarks: Attorney General Phil Weiser to the County Sheriffs and Police Chiefs of Colorado (Jan. 4, 2021)
2020 was a very challenging year for communities across Colorado and indeed the world; law enforcement professionals saw and responded to these crises, while also living with them as individuals and as departments. We confronted a range of crises, including a public health crisis and an economic crisis that made our work far more challenging, that struck our communities with tragedy, loss, and hardship. This past year also added new urgency to our work to improve how we keep our communities safe while working with those communities to treat everyone with dignity. As we look ahead to 2021, we can look forward to better times. Particularly during these challenging times, I am deeply grateful for your dedication to public service, your commitment to your communities, and your courage.
In my talk today, I will address five topics. First, I would like to discuss recruitment efforts into the law enforcement profession and our ongoing academic curricular improvements. Second, I will discuss a new responsible gun ownership and storage initiative, which builds off the leadership of Sheriff Justin Smith and a model developed in Larimer County. Third, I’ll discuss efforts to prevent domestic violence fatalities and some lessons from our most recent Colorado Domestic Violence Fatality Review Board Report. Fourth, I will address a new federal certification program for eligibility to discretionary U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) grants. And last, I will update you on our efforts related to the opioid epidemic and steps we will take to provide more support for addressing this crisis.
Recruitment into Law Enforcement and Academy Curricular Reform
For law enforcement to be effective, we must find ways to recruit and attract talented professionals to serve. To highlight the call to serve that motivates our law enforcement professionals, the Department of Law, POST, and our partners are beginning work on a “My Why” project. The concept is to share stories of the “why” that moved individuals to leave more lucrative and safer careers to serve the public instead. By telling these stories, which are often not told, we want to highlight the best and most selfless actions and motivations of our officers and encourage others to join this crucial profession. If you have suggested participants or ideas for this project, please contact our POST Director, Bo Bourgerie.
To support your recruitment efforts, we also launched a new grant program housed in POST. This effort follows one of our legislative priorities from 2020—House Bill 20-1229—which gives the POST Board authority to provide scholarships to small and rural agencies from POST’s grant funds for attendance at law enforcement training academies. We recently awarded scholarships to 19 smaller and rural agencies, totaling $103,000.
An ongoing project led by our Department and POST is the effort to develop a job task analysis (“JTA”) that specifies the set of core competencies that all peace officers need to be successful. By starting from first principles, we can evaluate what areas of competency today’s officers need and use that work to guide both the academy training and in-service training. Over the months and years ahead, we will explore partnerships with training academies to pilot and test new curricular innovations to develop critical competencies. As you have thoughts or suggestions on this score, please be in touch with Bo.
A topic of increasing interest, which will be a part of our effort to improve our academies, is training on de-escalation. Done properly, law enforcement training on how to de-escalate challenging situations can be an important tool that improves safety for everyone involved. To that end, POST is working with stakeholders to bring the Police Executive Research Forum’s (“PERF”) Integrated Communications and Tactics (“ICAT”) Train the Trainer course to Colorado, which would give agencies the capability of develop their own de-escalation instructors. As we pursue this path, we welcome your input and engagement, providing feedback and suggestions as we move forward with this opportunity.
And, as you all know, we must do more to support an honest, productive, and supportive conversation on mental health. As you all appreciate, the pressures and strains that officers face led to more officers dying by suicide than on the job. We need to do better—providing more resources and support for those who desperately need them and erasing the stigma so those who need help are comfortable coming forward and seeking it. We are working on this front, through our Wellness Committee, and welcome your thoughts and engagement on this front. We would also encourage you to visit the mental health resources on the POST website.
Safe Gun Storage
As I mentioned at the outset, Sheriff Justin Smith, working with his district attorney, developed a set of public awareness materials around safe and responsible gun storage. Our goal at the Department of Law is to support and build on this work and help bring Sheriff Smith’s good work to the whole state. We already have a group of other sheriffs, including Tony Spurlock, Sean Smith, Matt Lewis, Joe Pelle, and Justin Perry, who all have expressed interest in participating in this voluntary initiative to promote responsible gun ownership. The public awareness effort will focus on two themes: (1) please take your firearms inside, rather than leave them in your car; and (2) keep your firearms locked up and unavailable to unsupervised kids. Shortly, we will be rolling out public service advertisements that will promote both themes on local TV and radio as well as online. We will encourage the legislature to leverage this work, using proactive education and outreach as a strategy to encourage safe and responsible firearm ownership. I encourage you to look at the Larimer County Gun Safety Awareness Campaign and public service announcements that are online. Feel free to contact Bo if you are interested in joining us in this work.
Lessons from Domestic Violence Fatalities
Every year, we review the cases of those who died on account of domestic violence in the prior year in an effort to improve our response and prevent similar tragedies in the future. In 2019, 70 people died in domestic violence-related incidents in Colorado. The impact of domestic violence on children is staggering, with research showing that 60% or more of domestic violence incidents impact children. Going forward, we will work to provide resources to help those children, recognizing that exposure to domestic violence has direct consequences on children’s physical and emotional development. Additionally, we encourage law enforcement around Colorado to implement lethality assessment programs. This will help standardize our response to domestic violence and enhance coordination between systems. I hope that the information contained in the Colorado Domestic Violence Fatality Report will promote safety for law enforcement responding to incidents and decrease family violence.
A New Certification Program for Federal Grant Eligibility
Pursuant to the Presidential Executive Order on Safe Policing for Safe Communities, law enforcement agencies must adhere to federal, state, and local use of force laws and maintain policies to that effect. POST and the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police (“CACP”) were designated as Independent Credentialing Bodies for the purpose of certifying law enforcement agencies—affirming agencies that meet certain criteria—in order to be eligible for federal DOJ discretionary grant funds. We conferred with the CACP and agreed that POST would serve as the primary certification agency for Colorado. We are in touch with agencies about this process, which includes self-certification and follow-up during the three-year certification period. There is additional information on the POST website, questions may be directed to POST Grants Manager Kim Hernandez, and we will be in touch as this effort move ahead.
Responding to the Opioid Epidemic
Finally, I would like to talk about our response to the opioid epidemic. Our Department is now in litigation and settlement negotiations with large pharmaceutical companies that took actions that drove, and profited from, opioid addiction. Holding these companies accountable is one of my highest priorities as attorney general. We are now working to secure a settlement with funds that could start to arrive in 2021. We are holding a series of conversations with local governments around the state to discuss how an expected settlement—and the funds it produces—would be managed, including through regional collaboratives. These funds would be targeted to support abatement efforts, including education, prevention, treatment, and drug recovery programs. In practice, we expect these efforts will support your work in managing jails, including effective programs like medication assisted treatment.
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This moment is both a challenge and an opportunity for our law enforcement partners. All of the efforts I spoke will require your engagement, ideas, and collaboration. I am confident that, together, we will build a future of collaboration amongst the profession, trust with our communities, and support for all law enforcement officers. Your dedication to protecting public safety, supporting crime victims, and improving our criminal justice system is a tribute to our State. Thank you for your continued partnership, your leadership, and your service.