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Colorado Police Dramatically Cut Enforcement Actions Amid Pandemic, New Accountability Law
AURORA, CO - JUNE 27: Aurora police in full riot gear at the ready behind a police fence during a Elijah McClain protest in front of the Aurora Police department's headquarters at the Aurora Municipal Center June 27, 2020. Elijah McClain died August 30, 2019 several days after a struggle with Aurora police. Elijah became unconscious during the encounter with police August 24, 2019 and had a heart attack while being transported to a hospital. McClain died after being taken off life support. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)
Andy Cross/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Colorado police have significantly scaled back officer-initiated traffic stops in May and June as officers adapt to policing in a pandemic and under a new law cutting back on qualified immunity.

Along the Interstate 25 corridor, which runs the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains, police departments and agencies have recorded dramatic decreases in police officers initiating interactions with potential law breakers, according to CBS4 Denver. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic coupled with recent scrutiny of police tactics has made law enforcement significantly more stressful.

“This has been one of the most challenging years in my career,” said Arvada Police Detective Dave Snelling, a 30-year veteran of the police force. “[COVID-19 and national movements] just added a lot of stress to an already stressful job.”

“For our police department we had more of a turnover,” Snelling added. “There are other agencies where officers have left the profession.”

According to data compiled by CBS4, both officer-initiated traffic stops and calls for service generally declined in May and June from last year to this year along Interstate 25. Officer-initiated interactions fell much more steeply, however, even by as much as 70%.

Some departments directed their police officers to limit interaction with the public after states began locking down in mid-March to limit the spread of the coronavirus. In Aurora, Colorado, police calls for service fell 17.6% in May and 5.9% in June. Officer-initiated traffic stops, in comparison, fell by 40.5% and 20.7%, respectively.

Some of the largest drop-offs in officer-involved interactions among departments came amid a push to curtail qualified immunity for police officers. The legislative push was spurred by the police-involved death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, and the resulting bill was enacted on June 13.

The bill rolls back a number of liability protections for police, as well as requires police to wear body cameras at all times with certain exceptions, such as going undercover. It also curtails police enforcement tactics by banning chokeholds and forbidding police officers from firing “kinetic impact projectiles” at someone’s “head, pelvis, or back,” or firing them “indiscriminately into a crowd.”

In the state capital of Denver, calls for service remained roughly constant from 2019 to 2020. Officer-initiated traffic stops fell by 8.9% year-to-year in May, and by a staggering 58.8% in June. In nearby Boulder, officer-initiated traffic stops increased by 55.3% in May and then fell 65.7% in June.

Police officers and administrators worried about the bill’s impact on policing after it went into effect. Last month, Loveland patrol sergeant Rob Pride told The Atlantic that he is “worried” the increased restrictions may cause officers to “hesitate” in life-threatening situations because they do not want to lose their life savings nor their jobs.

Colorado State Rep. Leslie Herod who wrote the initial version of the law proposed in the House was less sympathetic to Pride’s concerns, stating, “If officers are rethinking [their career] because of a law of integrity and accountability, then they shouldn’t be in the profession as a police officer.”

“Their duty is to serve and protect, not kill. It is very important that law-enforcement officers think before they act,” Herod said.

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