- Associated Press - Friday, April 3, 2015

DENVER (AP) - Colorado lawmakers struggled Thursday with a package of bills to increase police oversight in reaction to allegations of misconduct.

The House Judiciary Committee worked late into the night on some of the thorniest parts of the package - a ban on chokeholds, expanding the ban on racial profiling and ordering additional investigation in cases of alleged police misconduct.

The committee even changed course on a police limit it had earlier approved. That bill, to require police departments to repay people wrongfully charged of the vague crime of “violating a lawful order,” was revived and then killed because of confusion of what the bill would have done.

The police-oversight proposals have turned into some of the lengthiest debates of the year for Colorado lawmakers. Dozens of people have testified to share painful personal stories of police harassment or misconduct. On the other hand, lawmakers have heard from law enforcement representatives that the limits could put officers in danger.

The chokehold ban was one example. The committee approved the ban 11-0 - but only after it was amended to allow police to still use the maneuver in self-defense.

“We know it’s very dangerous,” Vail Police Chief Dwight Henninger said. Nevertheless, he said: “It’s a tool that should be allowed for officers to use.”

The bill that prompted the longest debate Thursday was a proposed expansion to Colorado’s 2001 law banning racial profiling. The bill would add gender and sexual orientation to the statute.

The profiling bill would also ban officers from asking for permission to search a person stopped.

Law enforcement executives say that change would be an overreaction to concerns about illegal profiling. “I just don’t think that continuing to expand legislation to make us feel good is the answer,” Fremont County Sheriff Jim Beicker said.

The profiling bill passed 10-1 after hours of emotional testimony, however.

Lisa Calderon of the Colorado Latino Forum held up a thick file of papers related to traffic charges and other minor infractions given to her son. “These are the tickets, the summonses our family has had to endure because of what he looks like,” Calderon said.

The committee also approved a bill to allow a court to step in if there is question about a prosecuting attorney’s decision not to prosecute alleged police misconduct resulting in injury or death.

Three more police-oversight bills are moving forward in the Senate.

Those bills include a measure to start collecting data on officer-involved shootings to include demographic information about the officer and the person shot, as well as the circumstances surrounding each incident, to determine whether problematic trends exist.


Kristen Wyatt can be reached at https://www.twitter.com/APkristenwyatt

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