Prepared remarks: Attorney General Weiser IADLEST Opening Ceremony (May 15, 2023)
Good morning, and welcome to Denver, Colorado: the Mile High City! I am Attorney General Phil Weiser, and one of my roles is chief law enforcement officer for our State. As Attorney General, I run the largest law firm in the State and am honored to serve as the Chair of the Peace Officer Standards and Training, or POST, Board.
I’d like to acknowledge that today is a special day for our law enforcement profession. In 1962, President Kennedy proclaimed May 15 as National Peace Officers Memorial Day and the calendar week in which May 15 falls, as National Police Week. Established by Congress in 1962, National Police Week pays special recognition to those law enforcement officers who lost their lives in the line of duty for the safety and protection of others.
In 2022, 245 peace officers lost their lives on duty in the United States, including two fallen heroes in Colorado. Both Colorado peace officers who sacrificed their lives on duty died while protecting victims of domestic violence. In the case of Arvada Police Officer Dillon Vakoff, he was killed while protecting a woman who was wounded during a child custody dispute. El Paso County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Andrew Peery was shot and killed while attempting to rescue a wounded domestic violence victim who was laying exposed in a front yard. The sacrifices of both Officer Vakoff and Deputy Peery will not be forgotten and their memories will live on as a blessing. Please join me in a moment of silence in recognition of our fallen.
In Colorado, we have something we like to call “The Colorado Way.” As the State with the highest average elevation, 6,800 feet, Colorado’s environment is beautiful, but it can also be truly inhospitable at times. Before modern conveniences were available, we realized that it took a pioneering spirit, rugged individualism, and a great deal of cooperation to survive. These Colorado values remain today and can be seen in how we conduct ourselves daily, especially within our law enforcement community.
Across the nation, 49% of law enforcement agencies have 9 or fewer peace officers, and 73% have fewer than 25 peace officers. In Colorado, our law enforcement agencies tend to be small even though their jurisdictional areas are often very large, with nearly half having less than 10 peace officers and nearly three quarters having fewer than 25. This means that if our agencies want to be successful, they must find ways to cooperate to be able to accomplish their shared goals.
Consider, for example, Summit County, located at the very top of the Rocky Mountains at over 9,000 feet and home to some of our finest ski resorts. That county is also where our POST Director, Bo Bourgerie, comes from and was shaped by the cooperative spirit of the agencies there. I had the pleasure of joining a law enforcement roundtable in Summit County, where the Sheriff’s Office and representatives of the five small to very small agencies joined me for a conversation on how we can improve our criminal justice system. I can also report that not only is collaboration a core value in such agencies, but so is innovation.
In Summit County, law enforcement agencies might have 11 or so peace officers on duty to serve over 150,000 people. This means they frequently require assistance from other agencies to meet the range of challenges that arise. At times, this forced marriage led to a range of tensions and even hostilities between the agencies. To foster greater trust and confidence in one another, the front-line supervisors in each agency decided to meet every month to air disagreements before they ballooned into larger issues.
Before long, these frequent meetings resulted in productive discussions about the ways the line staff could better cooperate and coordinate activities. Eventually, this led to countywide law enforcement trainings on the types of calls that would most likely involve cross-agency cooperation, such as felony stops, active incidents, and building clearing. This is an encouraging result of the type of cooperative approach we aspire for in Colorado. And there are plenty of such examples, such as in Mesa County, where there is a single and well-coordinated Public Safety Answering Point that serves all agencies in that county. In terms of our Department, we have worked to encourage a range of collaborations across jurisdiction lines, including our unemployment insurance task force and a recently created organized retail theft task force.
At POST, we are committed to nurturing and encouraging collaboration across agencies. In Mesa County, for example, we supported a training center that serves a number of agencies in Northwestern Colorado. To encourage collaboration, we have a Training Board in place for each region to assess local training needs. We believe that each region in the State has important, specific needs that should be addressed with deliberation and partnership. From my Department’s perspective we strive to present opportunities equitably with opportunities for input and feedback from stakeholders across the State. One important way to hear a cross-section of perspectives, is through the composition of our POST Board which has representation from across Colorado, from agencies large and small, and from a range of stakeholders. Together, we have worked to develop our overall vision and priorities.
The mindset of cooperation and partnership also informed, for example, how we structured and have implemented our opioid settlement funds, with a well-established bottom-up regional model that won praise from John Hopkins Public Health School as the best model in the nation for the effective management of these funds. Many of these funds are available to law enforcement agencies in cooperation with other stakeholders in their communities. And, as you know well, we are going to need a multi-prong strategy to address the opioid addiction crisis.
In seeking to aspire towards a mindset of greater cooperation between agencies and with the community, we must provide officers and recruits opportunities to learn and practice skills necessary for this mindset and for success in law enforcement more broadly, including skills around greater emotional and situational awareness. To that end, we have instituted three foundational courses: (1) Integrating Communications, Assessment and Tactics, or ICAT; (2) Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement, or ABLE; and (3) Ethical Decision Making Under Stress, or EDMUS. As you know, ICAT provides the only scientifically validated de-escalation system for law enforcement in the United States. ABLE, developed at Georgetown Law, provides the tools our peace officers need to intervene, in a productive and effective manner, with other peace officers, before a career ending mistake is made. And EDMUS, which may very well be a first in the nation type of course that we developed in Colorado, is designed to teach peace officers how to keep themselves from entering survival stress and to make better, more ethical, decisions in high stress environments. In short, by providing peace officers with greater emotional awareness and decision-making tools, we are working to improve law enforcement, support our officer’s wellness, and build great trust and confidence in law enforcement.
The Colorado Way is evident in how the entire state is working in cooperation to spread these programs and make them successful. POST is working to ensure all of these courses are available to agencies at no cost. To that end, we are emphasizing a “train the trainer” model wherever possible. And we are paying the EDMUS course developer to provide the course in every training region, enlisting POST training staff for certification as instructor trainers and certifying voluntary instructor in each region. We have made similar commitments to building local capabilities for the ICAT and ABLE trainings as well.
The Colorado Way reminds me of what we see here for the IADLEST conference. We are honored to have 400 attendees representing 41 states, and 90 foreign delegates representing 16 countries, including Albania, Armenia, Canada, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Philippines, Serbia, Kosovo, Indonesia, Ukraine, Tbilisa Georgia, Dubai, Mexico, Jamaica, and, Saudi Arabia. This IADLEST conference is bringing this diverse group of law enforcement professionals together to collaborate, learn from each other, and create a better path forward for our profession. The courses being offered this week, including one by our very own POST Board member, the Chief of Police for the Thornton Police Department, Terrence Gordon, will offer an excellent opportunity to learn and improve. But it is also imperative to share your knowledge, whether during a session, on a break, or during other gatherings during the conference.
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Let me thank you all for your leadership. We know that this is a challenging moment for law enforcement. But I remain optimistic about how we can and must recruit talented professionals to take on this critical responsibility. I just celebrated the newest cadets in a graduation ceremony where I outlined the foundational mindsets that we are using to shape our redesign of the academy training curriculum. At that event, I was reminded anew about the powerful motivations of those joining the profession and how they are dedicated to public service.
As I look forward, and see those gathered here, I recognize the importance of building networks of trusted partners and colleagues who can take on the mantle of continuous improvement. For policing to most effectively serve our communities, we must embrace this mindset and ask how we can best serve the public. With the talent here, and those committed to supporting effective law enforcement, I know that we can and will meet this challenge. Thank you all for your impactful leadership and your service.
 National Sources of Law Enforcement Employment Data, U.S. Dept of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, October 4, 2016, Table 5