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Colorado Lawmakers Unveiling Sweeping Police Oversight Bills

DENVER (AP/CBS4) - Colorado legislators unveiled legislation Tuesday to increase oversight on law enforcement, including expanding the use of body cameras and collecting data on fatal confrontations.

In all, legislators are introducing 10 bills spurred by a debate nationally and in Colorado about whether law enforcement powers should be curbed in the wake of the killing of black men in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York.

In Denver, police have been dealing with public outcry over the fatal shooting in January of 17-year-old Jessica Hernandez. Authorities say she drove a stolen car toward an officer who was trying to talk to her.

"To put it blunt, public confidence in our police is low," Democratic Rep. Angela Williams, a sponsor of several of the bills, said while noting demonstrations outside the state Capitol last fall.

Rep. Angela Williams
Rep. Angela Williams, D-Denver (credit: CBS)

The measures are expected to be a delicate and time-consuming endeavor for legislators trying to balance public concerns while avoiding conflicts with law enforcement.

"Police have to use better ways and safer ways to restrain an uncooperative person," said Rep. Jovan Melton, D-Aurora.

Jovan Melton
Rep. Jovan Melton, D-Aurora (credit: CBS)

Police and sheriffs groups have cooperated with bill writers and are generally supportive of the ideas, as long as they're funded and don't interfere with officer safety and their ability to do their jobs.

"We share concern with our communities in light of any instance where our citizens feel like law enforcement has overstepped their bounds," Lakewood Police Chief Kevin Paletta said.

The Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police is working to balance rights and protections with the ability to ensure public safety, he said.

Lakewood Police Chief Kevin Paletta
Lakewood Police Chief Kevin Paletta talks with CBS4's Shaun Boyd (credit: CBS)

Some of the measures have bipartisan support. Republicans, however, have expressed caution about whether some of the proposals are merited. For example, one Democrat-sponsored bill would ban the use of chokeholds. Republicans prefer better training instead of an outright ban.

"Denver is not Ferguson. Colorado is not Ferguson. That said, we could see there are areas for improvement for transparency," said Republican Sen. Ellen Roberts.

Among the bills being introduced:

- A measure to encourage the use of body cameras by creating a grant program for departments interested in the technology.

- Collecting data on officer-involved shootings, including demographics and details surrounding the incident.

- Allowing law enforcement agencies to look at an officer's job history, including incidents of misconduct, prior to hiring.

- Teaching de-escalation techniques for confrontations, and training to prevent profiling.

- Appointing a special prosecutor to review decisions not to charge an officer when deadly force is used or excessive force is alleged.

"There is a lot of animosity, which is unfortunate," Sen. John Cooke, a Republican and former sheriff said about the current community-police climate. Cooke is a co-sponsor on bills to expand training and use of body cameras.

"We need to come up with good legislation that benefits the entire state," he said.

Another bill with only Democratic sponsorship in the House would give people civil recourse if a recording they made of a police interaction or altercation is seized without a warrant or consent.

- By Ivan Moreno, AP Writer

(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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