Arapahoe County Sheriff Tyler Brown knows that in the weeks since the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, “there are many people in our community that are hurting,” Brown told the public.
As cities across the United States field calls to rethink how they police their citizens in the wake of Floyd’s death, the Centennial City Council asked the public to submit questions for Brown about the sheriff’s office’s policies.
The sheriff gave answers during the council’s June 22 meeting — held via video conference — shedding light on how Arapahoe deputies are authorized to use force and how Colorado’s new police accountability law will affect policy at the sheriff’s office.
“I want you to know that law enforcement officers in our agency are with you,” said Brown, addressing residents who may be frustrated with police conduct. “We understand the protests.”
The sheriff’s office sent between 40 and 50 deputies to Denver for several nights during protests fueled by Floyd’s death, but they fired no shots or tear gas and made no arrests, Brown previously told Colorado Community Media.
“We do have the use of tear gas, (but) that’s not something that we deployed when we were downtown,” Brown said during the June 22 question-and-answer session. “We don’t have pepper balls in our use of force — we don’t deploy those as a munition.”
The weeks of protests in the Denver metro area — along with unrest nationwide — served as a backdrop to the state legislature’s decision to retool police accountability in Colorado.
Senate Bill 20-217, signed by Gov. Jared Polis on June 19, contains several reforms: mandated body-worn camera usage and disclosure of footage by local departments and the Colorado State Patrol, a ban on chokeholds, and the ability to sue officers directly for their conduct. An amendment added in response to the protests places limits on departments’ use of chemical agents and projectiles when handling protesters.
“My plan is to implement as much as possible of this bill as we can as quickly as we can. We’re going to hit the deadlines, but some of those are pushed out for years,” Brown said. “I don’t want to wait years to have these things implemented.”
The sheriff takes pride in his office’s steps over last five years to implement body-worn cameras for patrol deputies, and his office will equip investigators and command staff with the cameras, as the new law requires, according to Brown.
Brown also touted his agency’s willingness to hear input from the public and said if residents have further questions, “don’t hesitate to reach out to the sheriff’s office directly."
Brown mentioned his disapproval when watching “the images of George Floyd and that 8 minutes …” in which the Minneapolis officer had his knee on Floyd’s neck.
Chokeholds and carotid restraints have been banned at the sheriff’s office for years, unless deadly force is justified, Brown said.
“So they’re not part of our apprehension techniques while we’re conducting an arrest for, say, shoplifting,” Brown said.
The sheriff’s office’s policy, as of June 17, allows the use of deadly force if the officer has “an objectively reasonable belief that a lesser degree of force is inadequate” and believes that they or another person is in imminent danger of being killed or of receiving serious bodily injury.
The state’s new law prohibits officers from using chokeholds, a method in which a person applies pressure on the neck or throat to hinder breathing, according to SB20-217’s text. It also bans “carotid holds” — pressure to a person’s neck on either side of the windpipe to stop blood flow to the brain via the carotid arteries.
The exception the sheriff’s office makes — allowing chokeholds and carotid holds in deadly force situations — also is made in the new state law, according to Ginger Delgado, sheriff’s office spokeswoman.
City Councilmember Candace Moon, who is Black, asked the sheriff about addressing the “issue of racial profiling.”
“I will say from my own personal experience that at one time, it was a practice that we brought to the sheriff’s office’s attention,” Moon said. Since then, “I haven’t experienced it in my family.”
The sheriff’s office’s personnel undergo annual anti-bias training, Brown said, adding that Moon’s idea of bringing outside perspectives into the sheriff’s office for training would be helpful.
“I can tell you that racial profiling as a practice at the sheriff’s office is not accepted and will not be accepted,” Brown said.
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