By Sawyer D’Argonne, The Summit Daily News
The Summit County Sheriff’s Office hired a new civilian commander to oversee the implementation of police reform measures passed by the Colorado Legislature earlier this year.
The Sheriff’s Office swore in Christopher Walton on Nov. 18 to serve as the commander of the new Support Services Division, a post tasked with handling the changes outlined in Senate Bill 217, the Enhance Law Enforcement Integrity Act, which was signed into law by Gov. Jared Polis this summer.
While Walton does have significant law enforcement experience, he’ll be serving as a civilian in his new role, which officials called a deliberate choice to improve oversight within the office.
“Having an outward-facing civilian commander be accountable for the implementation of this bill is vitally important,” Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons said. “That’s the trend you’re going to see moving forward as we see requests and demands from the public for more civilian oversight. This is a first for the Sheriff’s Office, but Chris comes with a vast amount of managerial and command experience. Combined with his education, training and personal accolades, he’s an ideal commander to move this implementation forward.”
The law outlines a number of far-reaching changes to police operations in the state over the coming years, including requirements for body-worn cameras, the loss of qualified immunity for officers, new data-tracking stipulations, use-of-force restrictions and more.
Walton’s job largely is writing the policy for how the office will implement the bill’s mandates over the coming months and years. Walton spent most of his career with the U.S. Army, ending his service as a lieutenant colonel-deputy provost marshal in charge of operations for Multi-National Corps — Iraq, essentially serving as the primary military police planner for all of Iraq until about 2011.
Walton said he has three major skills: jumping out of an airplane, squeezing a trigger and writing. His job in Summit will require only the last, and he’s already started analyzing the bill and penning new policies to begin improving deputy training and to get the necessary equipment in place.
“Part of what I’ll be doing here is professional standards, including the implementation of the bill and ensuring our compliance with it over time,” Walton said. “My experience as a police officer in a different setting is really going to help me as a civilian in the oversight of the new laws. … This bill is a reflection of what the people desire. Through our Legislature, people are asking for some changes in policing, and I think we’re very much on the right track to doing that, especially here.”
The top priority for now is the acquisition of body-worn cameras and patrol vehicle cameras for deputies. The requirement doesn’t kick in until 2023, but with local governments facing potential liabilities now, Walton said sooner was better in an effort to protect deputies and the office at large.
Officials emphasized that all body cams aren’t built equal, and Walton is recommending a contract with Axon, which provides cameras that automatically activate whenever a deputy draws their Taser or firearm, or unlocks the patrol rifle from their vehicle.
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