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Analysis of 1996 Ballot Proposals

The Legislative Council takes no position with respect to the merits of the proposals. In listing the "arguments for" and "arguments against", the Council is merely describing the arguments relating to the proposals. The quantity or quality of the "for" or "against" paragraphs listed for the proposals should not be interpreted as an indication of the Legislative Council position.
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Referendum C
County Sheriffs Qualifications

Ballot Title: An amendment to article XIV of the constitution of the state of Colorado, concerning the office of county sheriff, and, in connection therewith, authorizing the general assembly to establish qualifications for the office of county sheriff.

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The proposed amendment to the Colorado Constitution:


The proposal provides constitutional authority for the training and certification requirements for the office of county sheriff that are currently in statute. In 1994, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that the General Assembly must have constitutional authority before it can impose qualifications on constitutionally created offices. Although the court's decision specifically related to county assessors, the decision calls into question qualifications for county sheriff that the legislature adopted in 1990. This amendment would ensure that there is a constitutional basis for training and certification requirements for sheriffs adopted by the General Assembly.

The legislation concerning sheriff's qualifications and training contains three elements. First, it requires that a candidate be a citizen of the United States, have at least a high school diploma, and be fingerprinted to determine whether the candidate had previously been convicted of a felony. The second part of the law outlines the requirements a sheriff must fulfill after the initial election. It requires that a sheriff be certified as a peace officer and attend 80 hours of training. Testing for certification includes topics such as firearms usage, arrest procedures, preliminary investigations, traffic control, law, and human relations. Courses pertaining to these topics are available at community colleges across the state. In the past, the 80 hours of training has included issues such as managing a jail, budgeting, civil process, and search and rescue. The third part of the law pertains to ongoing training, and requires that sheriffs take 20 hours of training related to their duties each year during their term of office.

Sixty-two of Colorado's 63 counties have county sheriffs that are elected, with Denver's sheriff being appointed. The constitution presently contains two qualifications for this office: a candidate for sheriff must be a qualified elector and have resided in the county one year prior to the election. Currently, one elected county sheriff does not meet the statutory standards established by the state legislature.

Arguments For

1) The public safety responsibilities of sheriffs require that they meet professional standards. Sheriffs supervise law enforcement officers, carry weapons, search and detain people, conduct criminal investigations, manage jails, perform search and rescue, and fight wildfires. Sheriffs also perform civil duties, such as serve legal papers, evict tenants, and sell assets to satisfy judgements. These responsibilities and situations demand that each sheriff be qualified, especially in rural counties where sheriffs are often the only law enforcement presence. Technological developments and modifications to the law also mean that sheriffs' responsibilities are continually changing. By being able to place job qualifications in statute, the General Assembly can consider the changing responsibilities and make the necessary adjustments in training for the office.

2) Professional standards promote cooperation between federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. Federal, state, and local authorities will be more inclined to involve a sheriff's office in cooperative law enforcement operations if sheriffs are well qualified. Similarly, sheriffs will be more likely to cooperate with one another if they are confident in the other's abilities. Better trained sheriffs will result in more efficient investigations and fewer claims of misconduct and lawsuits involving liability. Criminals will be apprehended more quickly and fewer criminals will be released prematurely because of lack of evidence or errors made during the initial investigation. Statutory requirements are necessary to ensure that sheriffs are trained and qualified.

3) Greater turnover in office will result in an increased need for training. In 1994, Colorado voters limited local elected officials to two terms of office, unless voters in a local government exempt themselves from this provision. In some counties, the turnover will result in less experience in the office of sheriff and a need for training programs to ensure that consistent and professional law enforcement is provided.

4) All other law enforcement officers in Colorado must be certified, including employees of the county sheriff. This proposal brings the office of county sheriff into line with the standards that other law enforcement officials must meet.

Arguments Against

1) This amendment limits the basic right of the people to choose their elected officials. The desire to establish minimum qualifications is not a sufficient reason to deny people their choice of elected sheriff. No such standards or qualifications are provided for state legislators or county commissioners. A community may value more a candidate who is highly trusted and familiar with the local area rather than a person who has met state-imposed certification requirements. In addition, the standards could be set at a level that would limit the number of candidates so that filling the office will be difficult, particularly in small counties.

2) It is unreasonable to expect counties to spend the time and money to ensure that their sheriffs comply with the qualifications for the office. Constitutional limits on government revenues restrict county budgets, and state training requirements are simply another unfunded state mandate. Some counties may prefer to use their resources for other budget priorities.

3) The constitution should not be altered unless there is a significant problem; such a problem does not exist. Currently, only one of the 62 elected county sheriffs does not meet the legislative standards that were adopted by the General Assembly in 1990. The point of the training programs is to provide qualified sheriffs, not necessarily to have all sheriffs certified. The goal of training can be achieved voluntarily by sheriffs without constitutional or statutory requirements.

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