Arvada PD aims to build trust

Some changes, but department hopes to continue current best practices


In response to Colorado’s police reform bill signed by Gov. Jared Polis on June 19, the Arvada Police Department plans to make changes and continue practices that it believes have built trust between the department and community.

The bill was introduced in the wake of widespread protests against bias-based police brutality, with the cause gaining momentum after George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police officers on May 25.

One change to the APD’s policies is an immediate outlawing of the use of vascular neck restraints, which have been permitted but rarely used over at least the past ten years, said police chief Link Strate.

The use of chokeholds, which is a different technique than the vascular neck restraint, was already prohibited by the APD because “it just wasn’t something that we felt was valuable to our officers,” Strate said.

The bill also mandates that law enforcement agencies must require officers to wear body cameras, effective July 2023.

APD is planning to make changes because of the bill, as its officers do not currently wear body cameras. The department conducted a study just over five years ago focused on exploring the potential benefits of utilizing body cameras as well as expected costs.

The department’s best estimates suggest that a body camera requirement would cost around $1.5 million in initial investment and about $1 million in annual ongoing costs, Strate said.

The study showed the benefits of utilizing body cameras — including enhancing transparency and reducing legal costs — are particularly seen in law enforcement agencies that are distrusted by the community and have a history of contentious community interactions or bias-based police actions, such as bias-based use of force.

But the study’s findings showed the APD was not distrusted by the community and that it had few bias-based use-of-force complaints, Strate said. Because of the evidence in the study, the department concluded that for the APD specifically, body cameras would not significantly improve the department’s relationship with citizens or impact its use-of-force instances.

Over the past five years, “we haven’t paid a penny in a civil liability case,” Strate said. “We don’t have a history of payouts because we don’t have a history of excessive use of force.”

The department’s use of force most recently attracted media attention in January 2020, when a 24-year-old Arvada man named Travis Cook filed a lawsuit against the City of Arvada and three of its police officers. Cook alleged officers used excessive force against him when he was arrested during a domestic assault investigation.

The APD said in a statement that Cook resisted officers during his arrest and officers were required to use the force they used to take Cook into custody and protect the alleged domestic assault victim.

As of June 25, the judge in the case had issued a discovery stay, awaiting rulings on motions to dismiss by two of the defendants, Arvada officers Scott Thomas and Ryan Clark. Thomas and Clark have moved to dismiss claims against them based on qualified immunity.

“There have been no real discussions about a settlement,” added Erica Grossman, one of Cook’s attorneys.

In the years since the body camera study was conducted, the department has continually reviewed its circumstances and evaluated whether to utilize the cameras, Strate said. While it has not chosen to implement them up to this point, with the change in state law, the department plans to require the cameras by 2023.

“I think the officers of the Arvada Police Department will be absolutely accepting of body-worn cameras,” Strate said.

Policies already in place

Meanwhile, the APD plans to continue many of its policies, including mandatory bias in policing training that has been required of all sworn personnel for at least 20 years, Strate said.

The anti-bias training covers topics including profiling, implicit bias and microaggressions related to gender, disability, race, religion, ethnicity and sexual orientation. Training focuses on how cognitive biases impact community interactions and the consequences of bias-based policing.

Personnel are regularly trained in topics that include the ethics related to the use of force and effective de-escalation techniques, Strate added. The department also utilizes what it calls an early warning system to recognize questionable conduct from officers.

Strate also highlighted the department’s accreditation through CALEA, the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies. The APD has maintained its accreditation for more than 30 years and has been named a CALEA Flagship Agency, or a model for other agencies to follow.

Keep the conversation going

As discussions around state policy changes have continued, Denise Maes, public policy director with the ACLU of Colorado, highlighted the importance of law enforcement agencies reviewing their policies and changing them when needed.

“It’s always good for police departments to look at their practices and procedures to make sure they are aligned with acceptable practices and not consistently involved with officer-involved killings,” she said. “They might be (looking at them now) because police officer-involved killings are a little more prominent in the news, but I think it’s always good to look at.”

Strate similarly said that the department hopes the community conversation continues.

“I hope this sparks continued involvement and sustained interested by the community in law enforcement, and instead of an accusation against policing in general, I hope there’s a desire to seek understanding of what their police department is,” Strate said. “We want to make sure we hear their voice and understand how they want to be policed.”


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