BIDLACK | Capitol to think about key justice points | Opinion

Hal Bidlack

Hal Bidlack

I’ve always had an interest in law enforcement, and during my last two years of active duty, I took the opportunity of the Air Force Academy Security Forces (the AF name for military police) to become a part-time police officer in the academy. I was just a regular patrol officer, but since I was also a lieutenant colonel, the young aviators I worked with loved me. For example, if a captain stopped because of a traffic violation and tried to achieve the rank of junior aviator cop, he would let me stop by and I would have a “serious” discussion of rank and duty with the above captain. I was a widower at the time, teaching during the week and patrolling at night and on weekends. I ended up on over 2,000 hours of patrol, arresting crimes, writing lots of tickets, and once covered in cocaine.

At least I thought …

Late one summer night I was called to a vehicle suspiciously parked at the lookout point on I-25, where many daytime tourists drove to watch parachutists and planes take off and land at the academy airfield. But when I got to the lookout it was dark and no one jumped out of planes so the lady stopped there (and drove * away * from the end of the parking lot). Well worth checking. When I was searching their vehicle with a couple of other police officers who came to help, I opened a can and a cloud of white powder poured out and covered me. My first thought was, great, I was just covered in cocaine and I have to burn that uniform. Fortunately, it turned out to be talcum powder so I was fine and smelled like lavender for quite a while. Policing is often not what it seems, can be extremely complicated, and is always challenging.

That, of course, brings me to the new Colorado state legislature session due to begin next month.

A recent story from Colorado Politics is a great review of the ongoing work on criminal justice reform that we should expect in the upcoming session, as well as some new proposals to improve policing and law enforcement in general.

One interesting idea concerns revoking fewer driving licenses for a wide variety of crimes. The thought seems to be that if, for example, a person fails to pay child support, then a sanction is certainly required. However, if that person has to drive to work to get the cash to pay alimony, having that person’s driver’s license not automatically taken may not be a good idea.

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee is State Senator Pete Lee of D-Colorado Springs (full disclosure: an old friend I donated to) who wants to take on what he calls “draconian” conviction on criminal murder cases who were involved but were not responsible for the murder. When I know Pete, I know this comes straight from his heart and from years of experience. Pete’s work on restorative justice is a role model for the nation, and we are lucky enough to have him here in Colorado.

I am pleased to see that there seems to be some degree of co-operation between the aisles on many of these proposals. Many of these bills have both Democratic and Republican sponsors and include contributions from police officers, prosecutors, and other major parties. One idea is to rethink no knock warrants, which can be useful in some situations but, as we’ve seen, can lead to terrible results if mistakes are made. Greeley’s GOP Senator John Cooke is concerned about the possible limits of no-knock raids and believes (correctly in my opinion) that there may be situations where such warrants are required and therefore a general ban would be a mistake. But I would also argue that these “right” situations are likely to be quite rare.

Other interesting suggestions include discussing a defendant’s right to expeditious trial. Under normal times, Colorado prosecutors must file charges against an individual within six months of a guilty plea. According to a ruling by the Colorado Supreme Court last June, prosecutors will be given an additional six months if key evidence – like personal witnesses – is not available due to the pandemic. With jury trials drastically reduced and / or delayed across Colorado due to the virus, lawmakers may be trying to codify in state law what a speedy trial really means in troubled times.

While the antics of the would-be strongman in the White House get most of the coverage these days, it’s very important to remember one common theme that I often rant about: State and local governance is far more important than it is to your daily life the national stuff. The law enforcement issues mentioned above are a clear example of this importance, and the fact that our lawmakers are taking up this wide range of proposals shows that government can and does often function well. So I urge you to keep up to date and keep an eye on the legislature.

Also, watch out for cans full of powder, as you may smell like lavender.

Hal Bidlack is a retired political science professor and a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force. He taught at the US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs for more than 17 years.

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