Police misconduct records and more to be off-limits under two new bills

mark barker.jpg
Mark Barker.
Despite the obligatory squawks from lawmakers about the need for transparency in government, few of their actions are quite as transparent as their efforts to shield internal bureaucratic processes from outside scrutiny. For a demonstration of this principle in action, look no further than two bills currently creeping through the state legislature that would close investigative records previously accessible to the lowly public -- including records dealing with police misconduct and the disciplinary process.

House Bill 1062, sponsored by Colorado Springs state representative Mark Barker, is billed as offering "minimum employment protections for Colorado peace officers," including the right to engage in political activities when not in duty or on uniform. Fine and dandy, but as this account in the Denver Post notes, one provision of the bill would make all materials used in any disciplinary hearing confidential -- a red flag to the Colorado Press Association, since such evidence of police misconduct now often finds its way to other agencies and thus to the public.

Another measure, House Bill 1036, sponsored by Rep. Jim Kerr of Littleton, seeks to "clarify" what investigative records can be withheld from the public under Colorado open records laws. Actually, it extends the exclusion invoked by law enforcement with regard to ongoing criminal investigations and seeks to apply it to "civil and administrative" investigations as well. This all comes about because a court ordered the release of records dealing with appraisers under investigation for allegedly bogus work, and Colorado Attorney General John Suthers would like to see such probes become as closely guarded as homicide investigations.

Both measures would greatly weaken press and watchdog groups' ability to examine what's really going on in law enforcement and the justice system -- an ability that's already been greatly eroded in this state in recent years. The ACLU has had to go to court close to a dozen times to get the Denver Police Department to cough up citizen complaint records racked up by its most unruly cops; it's won the battle repeatedly, but that could change with new legislation.

During a recent visit to the Westword office, new Denver Manager of Safety Alex Martinez told staffers and editors that he favored keeping disciplinary records under seal with the rest of an officer's personnel file, releasing only a summary of results when a proceeding led to substantive action, such as termination. This, he explained, was necessary to preserve the integrity of the internal process.

That's certainly a defensible position. But it would sound a little less ominous if Martinez had not been for years a member of the gang in robes at the Colorado Supreme Court that has effectively thwarted public access to many Colorado court records. Thanks to the directives of the Supremes, such records must be reviewed by clerks, who are charged with determining if a file contains personal or financial data that should be expunged before releasing it -- and who can charge a fee for this time-consuming service. Divorce cases, sexual assault cases, and many other types of cases are now close to being off-limits in some jurisdiction, even though there doesn't seem to be any real evidence that people were using the information in court files for identity theft or some other criminal purpose.

But, hey, it's all done to protect the public, right? In 2008, Jean Stewart, then the judge of Denver's probate court, issued a judicial fiat sealing all files of conservatorships and guardianships involving "protected persons" -- because, well, those people need to be protected from the public. Yet given the long-running controversies in Stewart's court over plundered estates, conservators who waste assets, and exploited "protected persons" -- see this grim report on the problem statewide by the Office of the State Auditor -- who truly benefits from sealing these records? Stewart retired last year, but the order remains in place.

The same goes for such sticky issues as prison health care, violence and sex harassment in state agencies, and social service investigations. It's a privacy issue. It's a personnel issue. It's none of the public's business.

Government keeps expanding, and matters that are the public's business keep shrinking. There's something transparently wrong about that.

More from our Follow That Story archive: "Jason Graber deal won't get Denver Police out of releasing excessive-force files, says David Lane."

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Mrs. Chukut
Mrs. Chukut

Lance,

Respectfully, I'm sorry to say, you are mistaken, .    Take a look at Case # 11SC786 currently pending in the Colorado Supreme Court.    The Colorado State Attorney General is attempting to defy CORA and FOIA.        

Mrs. Chukut
Mrs. Chukut

Please people wake up & REVOLT!  

Suppose you want to check the state's records about the nursing home where your dear Mom resides, ... some stange things have been happening with Mom's care and now you hear the facility has a "history" of negligence.    Hmmm ...  could these allegations be true?  .. why hasn't the "state" put a stop to it"?    --  So you start your research with a public records request to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Saftey .. (i.e. for records, complaints inspections &/or investigations of the nursing home facility).     --    SORRY CHARLIE!   ---  "Privileged Information!"  --  This is just ONE example of how HB1036 will put an iron clad curtain of secrecy between the "gestapo" and the "public".    

Put your thinking cap on ... this would apply to all actions of every "Colorado state agency" from ... "water quality" .. to "restaurant inspections"  .. to "phony no-bid contracts..... endless scenerios for corruption!

The entire concept, that "state agencies" should be able to operate in "SECRECY" is in direct conflict with democracy!  --  The "state agencies" are hired and entirely funded by TAX PAYERS ... yet they want to enact a statute to selectively withhold WORK PRODUCTS the TAXPAYERS paid for.    --  OUTRAGEOUS!!!!!    

Our goverment must remain transparent.   Transparency promotes accountability an provides information for citizens about what our government is doing.     HB12-1036 is a attempt to allow our state government to operate in secrecy,  perpetuate fraud, disceit, and dishonesty.GET on the  PHONE ... SEND E-MAILS & LETTERS ... to the entire state legislature NOW!  --  Tell the State Legislators we will not stand for "goverment secrecy" ... remind them "they" work for "us" , the tax payers .....  and demand they VOTE NO on HB-1036.GET on the  PHONE ... SEND E-MAILS & LETTERS ... to the entire state legislature NOW!  --  Tell the State Legislators we will not stand for "goverment secrecy" ... remind them "they" work for "us" , the tax payers .....  and demand they VOTE NO on HB-1036.

Jtcolfax
Jtcolfax

AND SO: If I were to WADDLE downtown and take it upon myself to BEAT someone in front of one of these cams, my INCIDENT could go right out to 9news and hither (and also thither)....and be used as evidence in court.  BUT: this bill would make it so that if the COPS beat someone in an outrageous and illegal way, and it was caught on cam, it should be hidden?  How much money does it take to get this kind of immunity?  If I were to suck off BILL GATES in exchange for his providing enough money for a bill in Colorado for me to go around beating people I mean really how much would that cost?  I really don't understand how we all sit back and allow this shit to happen.  I have been gone from Denver for most of this decade, but even in New York, I was treated to such VIDS as the DENVER DINER beatings just on the local news without having to look it up online.  Denver's disgrace CAME to me like it did to the rest of the nation, without wanting or looking.  AND THEY NOW PROPOSE that the WAY to stop these embarrassments is to just BLOCK THEM.  The police do not deserve any more RIGHTS than you do.  If they are caught on CAM abusing people, the people need to KNOW right away.  Every Republican and Democrat ought to feel that way.

Donkey Hotay
Donkey Hotay

Typical Repuglykans trying to cover-up their future crimes.

Bilbo
Bilbo

The biggest govt criminal in 'merica is Eric Holder, a dyed in the wool democrat.

Light Rail Tattler
Light Rail Tattler

I thought they were under seal except through a court order.You remember last year when the Balloon Boy Lawyer in a case before Judge Kane made the remark to the media: "I waiting for the dump trucks to deliver the police records to my office"It's fair game, that lawyer was on a fishing expedition. The police can't walk into whatever business or house on a fishing expedition and seize records without a court order and I don't think the media can or should seize personnel records without a court order.

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