Rankin, McCluskie visit Summit County to discuss police accountability law and coronavirus response

Breckenridge Police Department Chief Jim Baird speaks to demonstrators during a Walk of Solidarity in Breckenridge on June 1. The event was organized to protest police brutality against Black men. On Friday, Sept. 11, Summit County commissioners shared their concerns about the cost of implementing the new police accountability bill.
Jason Connolly /

BRECKENRIDGE — For Summit County officials, the new police accountability bill is worrisome. 

At a meeting with state legislators Sen. Bob Rankin and Rep. Julie McCluskie on Friday, Sept. 11, Summit County commissioners discussed Senate Bill 20-217, which Gov. Jared Polis signed June 19.

The legislation puts wide-ranging police accountability measures into place. It requires all police officers to wear body cameras, prohibits officers from using deadly force unless they are under imminent threat and requires agencies to collect and report a vast amount of data to the state. 

Summit County led the effort to submit a legislative issue document to Colorado Counties, a nonprofit that provides assistance to county commissioners, mayors and city councilors. The document outlines the key issues with the legislation from the perspective of county commissioners across Colorado. 

“We are still very, very, very concerned about what Senate Bill 217 means for us,” County Commissioner Thomas Davidson said. 

While Summit County officials don’t have problems with the intent behind the law, they are concerned about how the county will be able to pay for it and how the law will be implemented.

The state will not provide funding for the new law. Instead, counties will have to find money for the extra expenses incurred with body camera equipment and data storage. 

In July, 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

“It’s proving to be very, very expensive to implement what’s required of SB217,” County Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence said. “So we’re trying to figure out, how are we going to pay for that while really following along with the law and the spirit and intent of it?”

Rankin said the issue of money comes down to the state’s financial situation at the time that the bill was signed. 

“The reason we didn’t talk about the money in that bill is because we were in pretty dire straits on the budget,” Rankin said. “We didn’t know how to add up the numbers because everybody was at different starting points.”

McCluskie and Rankin agreed to have more meetings to discuss the new law as the next legislative session approaches Nov. 1. 

Also at Friday’s meeting, the county gave Rankin and McCluskie an update on its efforts to mitigate the impacts of the novel coronavirus pandemic. 

One of the biggest concerns among Summit County officials is the process for contact tracing during the upcoming ski season. Davidson said the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment will be requiring counties to conduct the contact tracing process for visitors. 

County Manager Scott Vargo said all of the funding allocated to the county from the state for the virus is tied to the resident population, which puts the county in a tight situation.

“OK, that’s fine if that’s the funding model that we’re going to use, but how can you expect us to fund to a level that might be five times our permanent resident population when ski season is up and going?” Vargo asked. 

Davidson said the overall goal for Summit County officials is to find a balance between keeping the economy running and preventing major outbreaks of the virus. 

“We have a collective goal to navigate that road and stay somewhere in the middle of the road,” he said. “At one side, you can go off a cliff if you’re not careful, but we also can’t just park the car on the side of the road and wait until there’s a vaccine.”

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