Independent Investigation of Police in Colorado Springs: Past Precedent and Gov. Jared Polis

By BELLA LAWRENCE

In the past several years, the growing distrust between civilian communities and their respective local law enforcement has been well-documented by the media — both social and mainstream. This documentation has most notably focused on accounts of underrepresented populations’ being disproportionately targeted in cases of police brutality. On April 10, 2015, the Harvard Law Review discussed the complicated nature of systematic reform in order to rebuild trust, and dissenting opinions regarding the implementation of independent investigations into a police force. 

As described by the Harvard Law Review, “in the current system of shooting investigations, the involved officer’s own agency investigates the fatal use of force” prior to being turned over to the local prosecutor. Traditionally, this process is supported by the belief that law enforcement’s monopoly on “legitimate” physical force allows the state to “enforce the rule of law and protect its citizens.” However, a monopoly of any kind, especially physical force and brutality, is inherently complex — especially when intertwined with “immigrant communities and ethnic minorities” being “disproportionate targets.”

Conversely, the perpetuation of public distrust in our legal institutions is damaging to the concept of procedural justice, which relies on the cooperation and faith of the population. Legitimacy of these institutions likewise “crumbles when civilians are treated unfairly” by law enforcement, according to Havard Law  Review. In this way, the pursuit of independent investigations in cases of police brutality and lethal force is one avenue to begin reforming the relationship between public trust and law enforcement. 

It was through this train of logic that Colorado Governor Jared Polis articulated his call for an independent investigation into the De’Von Bailey case. Polis said that such an investigation would serve to “maintain public trust and confidence” throughout the ongoing process. An article published in the Colorado Springs Gazette on Aug. 22, 2019 highlighted the contrarian response from Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers. 

Suthers argued that Polis was suggesting “a precedence with impacts he has not yet considered and does not understand,” the undesirable outcome of which, in Suthers’ view, would “undermine the will of the people” as shown through their choice in elected public officials. Even more divisively, Suthers said that although “some in our community are experiencing a great deal of emotion,” this “is a time for healing and allowing legal processes to run their course and not to act with political expedience.” It remains to be seen whether or not 4th Judicial District Attorney Dan May will recuse himself, or whether he will decide to file criminal charges against the officers at all.

Whether or not Polis’ actions are, as Suthers argued, motivated by political self-interest, the request for this type of independent response does set a new precedent in the state of Colorado. As written in The Denver Post by Elise Schmelzer and Anna Staver, “no other Colorado governor has ever made such a request.” Even more encouraging, the Bailey family has expressed their continued support for Polis’ request. 

 

  

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