By Peri Duncan // Colorado Independent
Almost 83% of Colorado law enforcement agencies failed to report whether or not they had any officer involved shootings between 2010 and 2015.
In 2015, the Colorado General Assembly passed a bill concerning data collection related to peace officer involved shootings, which set in place a requirement for 279 agencies to report any peace officer involved shootings that happened between Jan. 1, 2010, and Jun. 30, 2015, by Sept. 1, 2015.
Only 48 of the 279 agencies – including county sheriff’s offices, municipal police departments, town marshal’s offices, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, the Colorado State Patrol, and the Division of Parks and Wildlife in the Department of Natural Resources – responded to the bill, with only two agencies reporting no shootings during the time period.
The Division of Criminal Justice recently released a report on the data received, but it is not possible to know if every officer-involved shooting was reported.
“Not every law enforcement agency sent us data,” said Kim English, the Research Director at the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice. “That’s how we determined that we do not know if we have every incident.”
Although the bill was intended to provide reliable information on officer-involved shootings in Colorado, and required all shootings (fatal or otherwise) involving peace officers to be reported, it failed to require a response from each agency. The bill provides a simple and comprehensive form to fill out for each incident, but lacks any regulated form for agencies to report that they had no shootings during the time period.
Any number of issues could have caused a failed response, and since responses weren’t expected from every agency, a missing response could have gone unnoticed. Researchers who worked to produce the Division of Criminal Justice report on the information therefore cannot speak to the accuracy of the data, according to English.
“All agencies need to be responding yes or no,” said Denver activist Carol Oyler. “It needs to happen. If the people compiling the report can’t be confident in the data, how are we supposed to trust it?”
Oyler doesn’t necessarily believe the bill needs to be changed to require a response from each agency, but that there should be a higher-up who holds the agencies accountable for responding.
Despite the lack of clarity surrounding the report, Colorado Senator John Cooke, a sponsor of the bill, is confident that it was well implemented. He believes that all of the shootings during the time period were reported because agencies are held accountable by each other within multi-agency shoot teams, a caveat of the bill.
“There were several agencies that initially resisted, but they all complied,” said Colo. Sen. Cooke. “I think the multi-agency shoot teams are important because now instead of having an agency investigate themselves, this at least opens it up to other agencies. If there’s an unusual circumstance the outside agency can insure a fair investigation.”
Before the 2015 legislative session not every agency was required to be a part of a multi-agency shoot team. Now the standard is that if one agency has a shooting, a different runs the investigation with the assistance of the agency where the shooting occurred.
“Maybe the legislation in a couple of years will do something with the data, but other than that I don’t see it changing anything, especially when even the researchers can’t be confident in the data,” said Oyler. Activists like Oyler hope that bills like this will raise public awareness, but don’t expect them to change anything.
English, who will continue to take part in compiling reports from shooting data in future years, would recommend that all agencies under this bill report something, even if they have not had any shootings. If every agency were to respond, Colorado would have the potential to lead the way with accurate reporting of state-wide officer-involved shootings, progressing toward solving the nation-wide struggle of holding police officers accountable for their actions.
“I think this bill is going to be the end of officer-involved shooting legislation for now,” said Sen. Cooke, who expects to reassess the bill’s effectiveness later down the road. “I think we need to let the dust settle and reevaluate it in a couple of years to see if we need to make changes.”