Prepared Remarks of Attorney General Phil Weiser Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police Mid-year Conference Broomfield Police Detention and Training Center February 8, 2019
Thank you all for your important service. Together, we have important work to do to promote public safety, confidence in our justice system, and respect for the rule of law. At the Attorney General’s office, we have an important mission to support and work with law enforcement agencies around the state. Today, I want to review a few of the important ways we do that as well as discuss my approach to the job.
My Core Values
First off, I’ll begin by sharing some of my basic values that will guide my leadership of the AG’s office. I am committed to leading with innovation, meaning that we are not going to stand pat asking “how have we done this before?” Instead, we will always seek to ask “how can we do better?” To that end, we have hired the first-ever Chief Innovation Officer in a State AG’s office, who will help us improve our operations by adopting new technologies and designing new processes.
Second, we at the AG’s Office are committed to collaboration. Today’s world is increasingly one of networks. Solving problems requires working in teams—and often the members of these teams will not all be housed in any one operation. At the AG’s Office, this is core to our mission because our criminal justice work, in almost all cases, requires us to partner with federal, state, and local law enforcement, among others.
Increasingly, my Office will seek out other partners, too, as we work on a range of challenges facing Coloradans, from health care fraud to identity theft. As a founder of Sun Microsystems, Bill Joy, described our networked world—“the best resources on a challenge you are facing are probably not working for you.” One of the ways we at the AG’s Office can protect the public and contribute to more effective law enforcement is by being a connector, bringing valuable partners into the equation, whether to support victims, provide technology solutions, or offer relevant expertise. As AG, I will double down on these efforts.
Finally, we are well aware at the AG’s Office that we serve, first and foremost, the people of Colorado. This is a special responsibility that we in law enforcement all share, and one that animates and inspires our work.
Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Program
So how do we plan to put those values into practice? Let me begin by discussing our Office’s work with the POST [Peace Officer Standards and Training] Program. I think most people here know Erik Bourgerie, or “Bo,” as he is generally known. We are so lucky to have Bo leading POST. His leadership is felt in numerous ways, including upgrading the website and developing strategies for supporting rural law enforcement agencies so they can receive the training they need.
I am particularly excited about POST because it is creatively addressing a pain point for rural areas. Making sure that our law enforcement system works for all Coloradans is one of my top priorities as Attorney General. From Trinidad to Craig, I have visited with and learned from local law enforcement, bringing the point home that the law enforcement challenges facing Aurora can be very different from those facing Alamosa.
As someone who spent his career in rural jurisdictions, Bo knows well that they often cannot spare the officer time to send officers to training. One solution to this challenge is providing grant funds to agencies to offset staffing expenses incurred as a result of sending officers to training, including paying for overtime for other officers to make up for the time their colleagues are in training. But by itself, this is not enough: some agencies don’t even have enough capacity to make up for their fellow officers who are in training.
So, to support those agencies that cannot compensate for the loss of officers taking time for training, Bo and our office created the “Small Agency Backfill Program.” This program allows agencies to provide coverage assistance from another law enforcement agency, letting smaller agencies to give their officers time to benefit from this training. Those agencies that respond to this call and send officers to help out the small agency each receive $50 per hour towards each relief officer’s pay. Additionally, POST funds will cover lodging and travel expenses for the relief officers. I want to acknowledge and thank those agencies who have already agreed to serve as a source of backfill officers, and the funds are in place to make this happen.
Development Assistant for Peer Support Toolkits
A second area I want to talk about is peer support for police officers. It is a considerable understatement to say that police work can be incredibly dangerous and incredibly stressful. We mourn the loss of the 144 officers who died last year in the line of duty. And we are especially pained by the estimated 160 officers who we lost on account of suicide during that time.
To better support our law enforcement officers, my Office will work hard to provide access and guidance on effective peer support programs. You will know what options work best for your officers. To give you more options, we are building an online solution that will provide you with valuable guidance, including research, relevant documents, and evaluations of what works best. We will also keep working with you and updating training materials to help prepare officers for the emotional challenges they face and enlist trainers willing to talk honestly about the issues they have faced.
Support for Policies that Protect Police and the Public
Third, I want to talk about a pair of programs to protect police and the public. The tragic death of Deputy Zack Parrish in Douglas County brought into sharp focus the ways in which mental illness and the possession of weapons combine to form a fatal threat to law enforcement. Deputy Parrish was killed when he responded to a 911 call regarding a mentally ill individual. This episode followed earlier warnings about the likelihood that the individual was likely a threat to himself or others and had access to weapons. But under current law, police and others had very limited tools for handing this situation, leading to the tragedy we witnessed.
This legislative session, we are likely to see the passage of a new legal tool, sometimes called a “red flag law,” that would give law enforcement and others a procedure to take away weapons from those who are established to be a serious risk to themselves or others. Studies from other states show that when such laws are passed, they save lives. While details of this law are still being worked out, we will work with leaders in law enforcement, including you here, and the legislature to develop the best approach to this issue we can. As you have thoughts, suggestions, or concerns about this bill, please let us know.
Likewise, the Safe2Tell program is already in place and provides an outlet for anonymous calls to spread the word of threats that suggest an imminent danger. This program emerged from the lessons from the Columbine shooting and it remains a national model. We are proud to host it at the AG’s office and to partner with state and local law enforcement to protect schools, students, and our communities.
Finally, when I am asked about the single biggest challenge we face, I respond that it is the opioid epidemic. You see it in law enforcement every day. In Alamosa County, for the example, the County Sheriff reports that 90% of those in the jail are opioid addicts.
At the Attorney General’s Office, we are working hard to develop a multi-part response to this crisis. As Police Chief Rick Brandt, who is a Vice Chair on the Substance Abuse Trend and Response Task Force, can attest, Colorado is developing a range of strategies and collaboration between public health and law enforcement to deal with this crisis. As the Chair of the Task Force, I am so appreciative to have Rick at the table and engaging his peers in this important conversation. I cannot touch all elements of the opioid epidemic, but I do want to mention a few of them as well as invite further discussion on this topic.
First off, we need more treatment options and we need more peer support that will follow up on treatment. Where we can provide treatment options in lieu of incarceration, as the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program now being used in a few communities provides, is a promising option. But I recognize that resources are an issue. Our Office is currently pursuing litigation against opioid manufacturers and the ultimate goal of that litigation will be to recover damages for the harm caused from the deceptive marketing and irresponsible actions of those companies. Once we prevail in this action, we will have an opportunity to support such treatment efforts.
Second, we need to address the demand side of the equation by promoting a culture that condemns the use of opioids and other dangerous drugs. This means that doctors needs to be more careful about prescribing opioids when they are not truly necessary. In one such promising experiment, a new protocol for emergency rooms has cut down on opioid prescriptions by 61%. We also need to promote healthy social norms—particularly among teenagers—that recognize the dangers of such drugs and the dangers of vaping. Recent data shows that it is more likely that teens who engage in vaping will move on to using opioids. To that end, we support the important work of Rise Above Colorado.
Third, we need to address the supply side of the equation by prosecuting cartels who are looking to make money by distributing dangerous drugs like fentanyl. Our Criminal Justice Section regularly cooperates with law enforcement agencies to bring such criminal actors to justice, and we will continue to do so.
Fourth, we need to recognize that so many are already in the grips of the opioid epidemic and we need to look for ways to mitigate the harm caused by this crisis. This includes, for example, the issue of opioid users giving birth to babies born dependent on opioids. To address this very issue, we will be working on protocols and training for how to approach this challenge when law enforcement officers find themselves working with pregnant women addicted to opioids.
Finally, in a life-or-death challenge related to adapting and responding to the crisis, we need to acknowledge the role of Naloxone. To this end, the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention, with support from our office, has distributed Narcan, the nasal form of Naloxone, to law enforcement agencies across the state. If your agency is in need of a new supply of Narcan, or you would like to provide Narcan to your officers, contact our Office or Chief Rick Brandt of the Evans Police Department.
The spirit of Colorado is that we are in this together. The success in the distribution of Narcan and the emerging response to the opioid epidemic is a powerful such example. The small agency backfill program is yet another example. And the careful thinking that is going into developing a “red flag” law that can save lives—as well as the work that is going into peer assistance for law enforcement aimed to save lives—is a model of government works to support those who put their lives on the line for our safety.
Our work together to keep the public safe and protect victims is critical to the people of Colorado. And I recognize that, in our diverse state, the challenges to this mission will differ. To meet those challenges, we will work together to build innovative partnerships and find effective solutions. Please know that we will remain committed to listening to, learning from, and working with you. It’s an honor to serve with you and I look forward to working together for the years ahead.
Lawrence Pacheco, Director of Communications
(720) 508-6553 office | (720) 245-4689 cell