Following waves of protests in 2020 against systemic racism and police brutality, the city of Denver established a highly successful policing alternative called STAR, where a team of unarmed social workers serves non-dangerous citizens in crisis. This program isn’t the state’s only strategy for addressing police brutality. Colorado’s first of its kind Enhance Law Enforcement Integrity Act is also making a big impact on the impact of policing.
The unique law touches on all aspects of policing but focuses specifically on racial justice and the appropriate use of force. The law requires officers to wear body cameras at all times and for departments to promptly release footage of all incidents. It also redefines justified use of force, stiffens penalties for misconduct, and exposes officers to personal liability if they violate constitutional rights.
The new law was recently used to reexamine the killing of Elijah McClain. The 23-year-old died at the hands of police and paramedics two years ago in Aurora, Colorado when he was injected with ketamine. Under the law, state attorney general Phil Weiser brought charges against the five police officers and paramedics involved in his death. The case has given the state the opportunity to oversee Aurora more closely and force the city to change its policies, including enforcing the 2020 law’s policy requiring that all interactions officers have with the public be documented.
Undoing generations of institutionalized racism within American policing will take time, but Colorado’s approach using unarmed policing alternatives and restricting the use of force is a strong starting point. The initial goal of the new law was to increase transparency and accountability, but officials and activists are hopeful that the long-term outcome will be a permanent change in the culture of policing. “I do believe it’s working,” state representative and law author Leslie Herod told The Atlantic. “There’s still work to be done, but we’re moving in the right direction.”
This story is part of our ‘Best of 2021’ series highlighting our top solutions from the year. Today we’re featuring policymaking solutions.