The state of Colorado became the first to enact seismic change in the traditional relationship between law enforcement and the public.
Colorado passed a law that, among other things, removes the protection of the judicially made doctrine of qualified immunity for the conduct of law enforcement personnel. This means police officers, like all other working professionals, are personally liable for any of their conduct that falls outside of the law.
Colorado’s new law also requires a police officer who witnesses another member of law enforcement engaged in the unlawful use of force against a citizen to intervene and to stop the unlawful use of force. A failure of the witnessing officer to intervene is now a criminal act.
And the law gives the public greater access to police body-camera, dash-camera, and security-camera footage after a complaint of police misconduct is made.
In passing this, Colorado has tightened the public's grip on the reins of power and has ensured greater accountability of government actors. In passing this law. Colorado also has become a laboratory of democracy, where new and exciting things may be tried and tested.
This concept is best described by Justice Louis Brandeis, who served on the U.S. Supreme Court in the early 1900s: “There must be power in the states and the nation to remould, through experimentation, our economic practices and institutions to meet changing social and economic needs,” Brandeis wrote. “To stay experimentation in things social and economic is a grave responsibility. Denying the right to experiment may be fraught with serious consequences to the nation. It is one of the happy incidents of the federal system that a single courageous state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country. This court has the power to prevent an experiment.
“We may strike down the statute which embodies it on the ground that, in our opinion, the measure is arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable,” Justice Brandeis further wrote. “But in the exercise of this high power, we must be ever on our guard, lest we erect our prejudices into legal principles. If we would guide by the light of reason, we must let our minds be bold.”
Maybe it is time that we in Wisconsin and Minnesota consider becoming a laboratory of democracy. What changes to public policy can we make to better serve the public? Should police officers be more accountable to the people they serve? If so, how can we achieve that?
In my personal opinion, I think we should deeply consider following Colorado's lead and adapt it to fit the diverse needs of the Northland.
Brandon Engblom is an associate attorney working in Superior.