Boulder’s cops push back against civilian oversight as council considers citizen task force

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Photo by Matt Popovich on Unsplash

Sunday, March 31

Nearly two dozen members of the community — including a handful of police officers — wrote to City Manager Jane Brautigam with suggestions for a citizen task force studying police oversight. City council on Tuesday will consider which recommendations to incorporate.

Brautigam announced the formation of the task force during the March 19 council meeting. The group will be charged with studying options for civilian oversight of the police department, with recommendations due by Oct. 31 to council.

The initial plan was for half the 11-member task force to be residents of color. That was amended the next day to include members who are Latinx, LGBTQ,  a person with a disability or someone experiencing homelessness. A representative from the police union, as well as someone from the district attorney’s office, will also be included.

“If possible,” staff said in notes to council, there will also be an immigrant to the United States and someone who was formerly incarcerated among members, as requested by community members.

Because there are 11 Task Force members, it will be difficult to fill every specific position,” staff noted.

Zayd Atkinson, the Naropa student accosted by armed officers outside his apartment, will also sit on the board, according to the city council meeting memo. It was this incident that led to increased community demand for an independent review of officer misconduct.

Not every member will have to live in the city of Boulder. Representatives from the DA’s office and police union won’t have to, and two members of the general public also can live elsewhere in Boulder County but must have “strong connections” to the city itself.

Those changes have already been added to the task force charter. Council will weigh in on a few others Tuesday, including a citizen suggestion that current or former members of any other city board or commission not be allowed on the task force.

“This would encourage new voices and broaden our community outreach,” staff explained.

Community members also suggested that the task force be paid, in order to encourage participation among those who may otherwise have barriers to participation, such as needing childcare. Staff is recommending a $500 per-person stipend; $5,500 for the entire group. An adjustment to 2019’s budget would be made to accommodate the cost.

Staff is not recommending upping the task force to 13 members, as has also been suggested by residents, but noted that council could expand the group if it so desired. Staff will make membership recommendations, which council will review on May 7.

Applicants will be considered based on “demonstrated interest in the topic, expertise in criminal justice or racial equity, willingness to listen to all information before making a decision and ability to collaborate with others,” according to staff notes.

A few members of the police department wrote in to question the need for civilian oversight. Detective Kara Willis implored Brautigam to wait for the results of an internal investigation into the March 1 incident before deciding independent oversight is needed.

“Right now,” Willis wrote, “everyone is emotionally charged over what has happened.” She cautioned that “all the facts” need to be known, saying that she doesn’t believe the stop was racially motivated. Other officers wrote that police bear an undue amount of criticism because they are the public face for the community’s inherently racists policies and motivations.

Officer Ryan Lord noted the city’s laws that primarily impact its homeless population, notably the camping and smoking bans. “As the most obvious extension of the City Government (sic) we, the police, are castigated because the City Council has the untenable position of enforcing their laws,” he wrote.

Officer Ian Compton said that cops are required to respond to calls, even when it is obvious that the caller has racist motivations. (Author’s note: The March 1 incident does not appear to have been in response to a citizen call.) 

“We receive calls daily/nightly that are of suspicious individuals, often individuals who are described by the caller as a minority or person of color, who ‘don’t look like they belong in the neighborhood,'” Compton wrote. “We as officers do not have a choice whether to respond to these types of calls or not … we are dispatched and required to investigate. These type of calls trouble me deeply and I want them to stop.”

All three cops worried that the creation of a task force will further impact the “extremely low morale” among the city’s officers.

“We are having a hard time with retention,” wrote Willis. “If this moves forward, you will see a lot of people leaving this department.”

This item does not include a public hearing, though it may be addressed during open comment. Sign-ups to speak are open online through 2 p.m. Monday.

City council meeting: 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 2, 1777 Broadway

— Shay Castle, boulderbeatnews@gmail.com, @shayshinecastle

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