Bill seeking to tighten policies for cops involved in fatal shootings gets state Senate panel OK

Aurora Police Chief Nick Metz details the shooting of Richard Black by an Aurora police officer during an Aug. 2 press conference.
Photo by Philip B. Poston/The Sentinel

AURORA | Reacting in part to a controversial police-involved shooting in Aurora last year, members of a state Senate committee on Monday moved forward with a bill requiring police agencies to shore up their policies and resources for officers involved in fatal incidents. 

Members of the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee voted 3-2 along party lines to green-light Senate bill 19-091, which would require law enforcement organizations across the state to create policies to address officers’ well-being before and after shootings or other fatal incidents.

One of the bill’s sponsors, State Sen. Rhonda Fields (D-Aurora), stated her intention to run the measure last year, shortly after Aurora police fatally shot and killed Richard “Gary” Black Jr. in July. 

Following a bizarre home invasion and assault in a north Aurora home on July 30, Aurora Officer Drew Limbaugh shot and killed Black, 73, moments after the Vietnam War veteran shot and killed a naked and drug-addled intruder.

Limbaugh fatally shot another armed suspect at an Aurora motel about month before shooting Black.

Local district attorneys exonerated Limbaugh, a former Army Sniper, in both cases.

A likely civil lawsuit suit in the Black case is pending, and police have been criticized from various sources for their part in the shooting.

“We need a process in place to prevent tragedies like the loss of Captain Richard Black Jr., and that is exactly what this legislation is designed to do,” Fields said in a statement. “It provides recommendations, not a mandate, for what to do before and after a traumatic incident to ensure that the public is safe and that our law enforcement officers are ready to protect and serve again.”

The measure would require law enforcement agencies to develop pre-incident protocols, increased mental health services for officers following fatal incidents, and rules for when and how an officer can come back to work following a fatal incident. 

If signed into law, the measure would require law enforcement entities to outline their policies by the beginning of next year. Agencies would need to update their guidelines every other year, according to the bill’s pretext.

There have been more than a dozen officer-involved shootings in Colorado so far this year, including one fatal incident in Aurora last month. Officers exchanged gunfire with, and eventually killed, 43-year-old Esmond Trimble at a home on South Kenton Street.

The bill comes with a vague fiscal note, which specifies the measure would increase the workload for law enforcement officials and a bevy of other state employees.

To combat those costs, law enforcement personnel would be eligible to receive grant funding from the Peace Officers Mental Health Support Fund, according to the fiscal note. Created in 2017, the fund dispensed $1.4 million in grants to 16 recipients last year. The average grant totaled $84,700.

The fund currently has about $500,000 remaining in its coffers, according to state officials. 

State Sen. John Cooke (R-Greeley) and Rep. Jonathan Singer (D-Longmont) are also sponsoring the legislation.