DENVER — A bipartisan bill that aims to make it easier for veterans to become police officers in Colorado passed out of the House of Representatives after a 59-5 vote on Monday.
House Bill 24-1093 would allow armed forces members to obtain an interim certificationto work as a police officer while completing any requirements for basic certification in Colorado. Currently, only qualified law enforcement members from other states can obtain such certification.
The Colorado Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) is in charge of reviewing and approving applications
“All this does is simply remove the exception that's been in the statute that disallows military service from being eligible for POST training... I can explain it better than most because I have a background as both military police officer and civilian law enforcement," said State Representative Ryan Armagost, R - Larimer and Weld Counties, one of the prime sponsors of the bill. “When I did get into law enforcement, all of the training I had been through as a military police officer was basically non-existent. So the fact that it was harder to become a civilian police officer with military police experience than it would be coming fresh out of college or whatever was a little frustrating to me. And I'm sure that is for a lot of military members and veterans.”
Armagost described POST as a very rigorous academy for those looking to become a police officer in Colorado. He said the POST Board would decide the number of military training hours that would be applied toward civilian police training. Applicants would still go through the POST academy but receive credit for certain portions.
Armagost said only military police officers would have the training and "credits" that could transfer under the bill.
“A lot of veterans that do get out want to serve in law enforcement. They might not have the capacity or really know what the process is or how they qualify. I think this will help bridge that and offer a lot more opportunities for veterans so we don't have them getting a rough transition back into civilian life," said Armagost. “The initial misconception that we had was that the bill was going to give people automatic POST certification, like you get out of the military, you can walk right in and get in a patrol car and start patrolling the streets of your local city. It's absolutely not that.”
Armagost said experts testified of the difference between military police training and civilian police training while the bill was in committee. However, State Representative Lorena Garcia, D - Adams and Jefferson Counties, said she was left with questions regarding the two different trainings. She voted against the bill, both while it was in the House Judiciary Committee and after it made it to the House Floor.
"The way that the bill was written, it did not actually call for a process of recertification of making sure that the training that police officers received in the military actually resembled what we expect in our non-military police force," Garcia said. “While I understand the intent was there by the sponsors, I believe in what is written and what gets published into our statute books, and that process was not there.”
Garcia said she has some real concerns about the bill.
"There are very valid questions as far as the training that an MP [military police] does undergo. How does that actually translate to treatment of civilians?" asked Garcia. “The military is so disciplined. Civilians, we're not going to stand at attention when faced with somebody of quote-unquote authority. And so, how is that going to be perceived?”
Garcia does not believe veteran military police officers should not pursue careers in civilian law enforcement. However, she wants to see more structure within the bill to better curate a pathway from one career to the next.
Armagost said Colorado is one of a number of states considering similar legislation.
“There are, I believe, 21 other states that are doing this right now. We're trying to be one of the first that leads to get this going and be a model for other states," said Armagost.
One study from Florida, conducted by a law enforcement officer who has served in the military, said military police "are enrolled into a basic law enforcement training program for several weeks that in many ways mirror a civilian police academy." Another report that was published by the Journal of Public Health in October 2018 analyzed 10 years of data from the Dallas Police Department and concluded that "military veteran status, regardless of deployment history, is associated with increased odds of shootings among" law enforcement officers.
HB24-1093 heads to the Senate next, where Senator Nick Hinrichsen, D - Pueblo County, is the prime sponsor.