Police reform law adds financial stress for county and local law enforcement departments | SummitDaily.com

Police reform law adds financial stress for county and local law enforcement departments

Summit County Sheriff's Office Evidence Supervisor Meredith McKissock will be taking on new responsibilities soon as the county begins to implement a requirement for body camera footage from all deputies.
Photo from Summit County Sheriff’s Office

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the estimated cost for new body cameras and in-car cameras.

FRISCO — Local law enforcement agencies are bracing for financial burdens as they work to roll out new regulations passed by the state Legislature earlier this year.

In June, Gov. Jared Polis signed into law the Enhance Law Enforcement Integrity Act, a sweeping reform measure that will enact considerable changes for county and municipal police forces over the next few years. While officials agree with the intent of the updated guidelines and restrictions — and the overall need for police reform — they’re also warning of unintended consequences like massive increases in administrative efforts as well as additional costs associated with new personnel and equipment.

Last week, Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons made a new budget proposal to the Summit Board of County Commissioners, asking for more than $1.3 million in additional funding to help meet the requirements. If approved, FitzSimons said the funds would be spent over the next 12-18 months.

“Obviously, I’ve been aware of the Senate bill for some time,” FitzSimons said. “So we were tracking this — it was a short burn — and we were able to actively discuss in real time what it would take to implement the new measures. Once it did pass, I started making assessments about where the risks were and how to fill those gaps.”

The bill enacted several changes right off the bat, including immediate regulations surrounding police officers’ duty to intervene, updating use-of-force provisions and providing new civil actions for individuals who feel they were deprived of their rights — essentially opening up agencies and even individual officers to lawsuits if they were determined not to have acted in good faith that their actions were legal.

Other mandates, such as the activation of body cameras for officers and the disclosure of footage, won’t go into effect until 2023, but with local governments already open to potential liability, officials are hoping to get out in front of any problems.

“I wholeheartedly believe any police leader worth their salt would rally behind this, just not in the manner it was carried out,” FitzSimons said. “All of these changes are livable. It’s the governmental immunity going away that is the game-changer here. Otherwise, we may have been able to implement these (changes) slowly. … This isn’t deepening my bench. This is a couple people to start a framework for this thing we’re trying to build.”

Though, the price tag may prove to be a problem.

FitzSimons said the top priority was adding new personnel to handle the increased workload administratively and to take some of the pressure off patrol deputies currently working without proper supervision. In total, FitzSimons called for six new employees: a professional standards commander, two patrol sergeants, two new digital evidence specialists and a new detentions sergeant. Additionally, he’s hoping to reclassify the current evidence technician to a supervisor role.

The commander position would handle all changes in professional standards as a result of the bill’s passage, including overseeing new training practices and data collection outlined in the legislation. The expanded evidence team would be responsible for managing a considerable amount of new body camera footage along with their current duties.

“The need is there now, and it’s something that has to be fulfilled immediately,” FitzSimons said. “I don’t have available staff to research and implement this. … It will be up to the new staff to start looking at these software programs, our training and all the other requirements of the Senate bill that intersect together. They’re going to build the program rather than me building a program with staff I don’t have.”

The new sergeants would help to provide leadership in the field — there are shifts without sergeants in patrol and detentions — so deputies aren’t forced to make hard choices without supervision.

In total, the new positions account for more than $631,000 in addition to added costs like new cars, workspace, training and other equipment.  

The budget request also calls for about $360,000 for new body cameras and in-car cameras, and law enforcement officials said there were other effects of the act that would end up costing more in the future, as well.

Police officers are now required to complete reports on all contacts, including perceived demographic information on the person contacted and any uses of force. That means breaking up a party or a gathering could lead to significant time at the computer filling out dozens of reports, rather than returning to duty.

Silverthorne Police Chief John Minor said he was pushing for a new administrative employee who could help with the new data collection and tracking guidelines.

“This couldn’t have come at a worse time to be honest,” Minor said. “Our admin staff was already taxed anyway, but this is going to put us over the edge. So we’re asking for that new position.”

The county commissioners were hesitant to sign off on all of the expenditures immediately, asking for a timeline of when each measure outlined in the bill would be implemented and weighing potential liability risks with financial uncertainty brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ultimately, the commissioners agreed that the new commander and evidence supervisor positions were high priority and authorized the Sheriff’s Office to move forward with the hiring process. Other expenses are yet to be approved as the commissioners consider requests from other agencies and programs seeking funding.

“For us, it’s a big calculation,” Commissioner Thomas Davidson said at the meeting. “There are lots and lots of needs from all over our government. And the flexibility we have overall financially is going to affect what we can do in other places.”

The commissioners also voiced frustration regarding several unintended consequences of the new laws, and said they’d make efforts to try to inform lawmakers of some of the act’s shortcomings.

“Because of the fiscal impacts, I don’t think (the act) fits the narrative,” Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence said at the meeting. “It does the opposite. Instead of moving money into more community programs and things like that on the front end, it’s just creating so much more work and police presence.”

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