A statewide report and public dashboard on police officers’ use of force, a requirement set under Colorado’s sweeping police accountability reforms, is set to be published by the end of fall, months after its original deadline.
The report, which will include data from 270 law enforcement agencies in Colorado, will show the number of incidents in which officers use force and no-knock warrants, and will include information on deadly police encounters and police officer resignations while under investigation for violations of their agency’s policies.
The publication of the report and dashboard was delayed by several months because of “unexpected challenges” with technology training, terminology education and software implementation, said Paula Vargas, a spokesperson for Colorado Department of Public Safety.
The report marks a shift toward more transparency in police officers’ interactions with the public. The frequency with which officers use force against people in the line of duty is often shrouded from public view as law enforcement agencies have long resisted opening disciplinary files that could reveal details of on-the-job misconduct.
The report and dashboard are mandated under sweeping law enforcement reforms that Gov. Jared Polis signed into law in 2020 in 2021, on the heels of nationwide protests calling for more accountability for police officers.
Under the reforms, law enforcement agencies are also required to equip all of their officers with body-worn cameras. Like many police brutality cases, including Elijah McClain’s 2019 death while detained by Aurora police officers and Christian Glass’ death last summer after he called 911 while experiencing a mental health crisis, body-camera footage was key in bringing light to what happened.
The report and dashboard will include incidents that were reported August 2022 onward.
What does “use of force” include?
The state’s definition of “use of force” includes all contact with a police officer that results in death or serious bodily injury or that involves the use of a weapon including unholstering, brandishing or discharging a gun during an incident, according to Colorado’s Department of Public Safety. The law applies to all firearms, Tasers, batons, nunchucks and projectile weapons.
The FBI sets a higher threshold for use-of-force.
Agencies must enter the officer’s name, along with other officers at the scene, even if they did not use reportable force.
For example, if an officer approaches a person and draws a weapon and a backup officer is on the scene, but does not draw a weapon, both officers must be included in the law enforcement’s report to the state.
If an officer uses a control hold on someone but doesn’t cause serious injury, it is not considered a reportable use of force, according to Colorado Department of Public Safety. But if the hold breaks the person’s wrist, it must be reported because the outcome was still a serious injury regardless of the officers’ intent, the department said.
When an agency’s SWAT team is involved and a weapon is brandished, all officers’ names and other required information must be reported. If a firearm is in the hands of an officer in a “ready position” to be used, it is considered brandished, the Department of Public Safety said. If the weapon is being carried on the officer’s back and is being held in a way that it could be immediately fired, it is not considered to be brandished.
Will officers’ names be searchable?
Yes, the state intends to publish a page that will list the agency, date, officer’s name and type of force that was used. It will be similar to the Police Officer Standards and Training dashboard, where the public can check an officer’s certification status and any actions filed against them.
How is the data being collected?
Agencies are required to submit use of force data to the state on a monthly basis, which will then be compiled in an annual report. The dashboard will be updated annually along with the release of the annual report.
The yearly report was mandated under Senate Bill 217, along with House Bill 1250, which addressed changes to SB-217, and House Bill 1142, which requires every law enforcement agency to adopt written policies that outline how it will collect data on officers’ use of force, including gender and race of the suspect, technique that was used, the alleged crime and outcome of the encounter.
Complaints and investigations of officers’ conduct, which often happen weeks or months after the contact, will be uploaded to the website and previously submitted reports can be modified, CDPS said.
When complete, the annual report will be published on the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice’s report page.
What’s the holdup?
The original deadline was July 31. The state’s Office of Research and Statistics, housed within the Division of Criminal Justice, began collecting data in August 2022, but had to adjust the publication date in order to work with agencies to clarify the legislation requirements and ask for the data to be resubmitted to meet the bills’ requirements, spokeswoman Vargas said.
“As with any implementation of this magnitude, it presented unexpected challenges such as software implementation, technology training, terminology education, outreach to local law enforcement and an imposed timeline,” Vargas said in an email.
“Staff is working as quickly as possible to analyze the new data submitted and publish the report by this fall,” she said.