Breckenridge police chief discusses local impact of state police act
BRECKENRIDGE — At Breckenridge Town Council’s work session on Tuesday, June 23, Chief Jim Baird addressed Colorado Senate Bill 20-217 as well as the national conversation around policing. Baird explained that several states are talking about passing bills that would “change some things in law enforcement” and that Colorado is ahead of the game time-wise as Gov. Jared Polis signed the bill into law as the Law Enforcement Integrity and Accountability Act last Friday.
Baird described the act as broad in range and said that while it touches on a lot of topics, some elements of the act will affect the Breckenridge Police Department, some elements will put into law practices the department already has and some elements won’t change anything locally.
While the Breckenridge Police Department currently doesn’t issue body cameras, Baird said it is something he was trying to bring in prior to COVID-19 as he said they only benefit the department. He said he is in the process of talking to some vendors for body cameras. He noted that officers will be required to have body cameras and to activate them under certain circumstances and there will be sanctions for failure to do so.
The act requires the department to start collecting demographic data on the people the police have enforcement contacts with, which Baird says he is working on getting a system in place to collect this data.
“It basically requires us to capture use of force data for some of the higher end incidents, it requires us to track resignations of our sworn staff that may leave prior to an investigation being completed for any kind of a policy violation and then kind of the bigger lift is going to be demographic information on all traffic stops and any other enforcement contacts that we might have. We need to record the gender, race, ethnicity, a few other things for each person we contact under those circumstances,” Baird said.
Council Member Jeffrey Bergeron asked what the rationale was behind the data collection as he was concerned it would cause anxiety to the local immigrant populations to be asked demographic questions. Baird said he doesn’t believe this will be a factor because officers will record based on their perceptions and will not ask the person what their gender or ethnicity is in order to record the information. Baird also discussed qualified immunity.
“One of the things that happened that has led to some anxiety for staff is qualified immunity is gone for the officers under this new act. There’s probably more implications, however, for the town because there’s no caps anymore on any kind of payouts or any kind judgements so that’s something that the town’s going to have to figure out as we go forward,” Baird said.
Baird explained that the gist of how the act is affecting the department right now is that the department is gathering information from body camera vendors, developing a process for demographic data collection and looking into use of force training. He said that overall he does not think the changes will lead to any service delivery changes for the town.
Council Member Erin Gigliello asked Baird how he was feeling about the current climate and the act.
“The bill itself, I think we can live with,” Baird said. “It’s not ideal, I do believe there will be some unintended consequences as a result of the bill, however, I do have some level of optimism that as additional amendments come forth and they can they see potential negative impact that can have for people that we can get some of those things changed.”
Baird added that staff is aware they are supported and know that they receive a lot of support from the town. Community member Evin Harris asked in the meeting Q&A section what unintended consequences Baird sees. He said that he is mostly concerned about issues that could come from the body worn cameras as he sees “potentially negative impacts for victims of a crime.” He noted that he was concerned about footage being required to be released to the public, which he said could infringe on the privacy of the person the police are interacting with.
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