Boulder’s police oversight panel shrinks, but suggested name sticks

Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020

A new system of police oversight, in the works for more than a year, will soon become a reality in Boulder. City council is on Tuesday considering a final ordinance to create a civilian panel that will act as extra eyes on officer misconduct, as well as department policies and procedures that may further inequities in the community.

Elected officials got a look at the proposed program in late September. City council asked for details to be fleshed out and some tweaks, including a diminished panel. The implementation team recommended 11 seats, but some council members felt a smaller group would be more manageable.

That request was heeded by the implementation team (residents who previously researched and recommended various methods of oversight). A nine-member panel is now being recommended, with three alternates in case of a vacancy.

The team decided not to honor councilwoman Mary Young’s suggestion to remove the word “oversight” from the panel’s official title. Young felt it connoted one group “lording over” another, harkening back to slavery.

In notes to council, the implementation team reiterated its preference for the group to be called the Police Oversight Panel, and debunked an etymological connection to slave overseers.

“There is no actual historical linkage between the two terms,” the memo read. “ ‘Oversight’ is the most common term used by professionals in the field.”

This and other feedback was shared with council and passed on first reading Oct. 20, with no discussion. Tuesday’s meeting will include a public hearing and council vote.

A look at other details:

Council request
Implementation team response

Details on nonprofits in charge of selecting panel members

The following language was added to the ordinance: “The selected non-profit organizations shall meet the following criteria: 1) They must serve the Boulder community, 2) They must serve a population that has significant contact or a difficult relationship with law enforcement, and 3) They must serve a historically excluded community.”

Council role in panel member selection

The implementation team and nonprofits will recommend panelists. The recommendations will be subject to “call up” or review by council via majority vote

Council materials for panelist selection

“The selection committee will provide council with a written summary outlining why each candidate was selected by the committee and what added value each candidate would bring to the panel.”

Public voice in panelist selection

Candidate interviews will be public. Members of the public can speak during open comment at city council meetings, or a public hearing if council elects to call-up panel selection and hold a hearing.

Develop selection criteria matrix

This suggestion was not incorporated. From the memo:

“The Implementation Team does not wish to prescribe a matrix to assess prospective panel members. The team would prefer to evaluate the suitability and value-add of each candidate holistically and on an individual basis. The ordinance currently contains language designed to ensure the panel is composed of individuals with a diverse variety of backgrounds and experiences. The primary criteria or question that the selection panel would like to focus on is: ‘How will the candidate add value to the police oversight process?’ “

Panel review of monitor

The panel will produce an annual assessment report. Panel co-chairs will hold quarterly meetings with the monitor “to convey priorities and feedback on the monitor’s work”

Panel member conflicts of interest

The following language was added to the ordinance:

“A member of the Police Oversight Panel shall remove themselves from any participation in a matter if their impartiality might reasonably be questioned, or if they have personal knowledge of any facts regarding the incident under review. Members of the Police Oversight Panel shall be subject to the Code of Conduct set forth in Title 2, Chapter 7 of this Code as public officials.”

Role of panelists in handling public complaints about police

“The Implementation Team recommends that panel members direct complainants to the monitor or the Professional Standards Unit to file complaints. … However, the panel will develop methods to provide third-party support to complainants who feel uncomfortable filing complaints.”

Define critical incident (when the monitor will be called to the scene involving police officers)

The Implementation Team recommends not defining “critical incident” in the ordinance. The monitor, panel and police chief will develop a memorandum of understanding to determine when the monitor should be called to the scene of an incident.

Exclude monitor from panel selection process

The following language has been added to the ordinance: 

“In no event shall the monitor be involved in the process of selecting the selection committee or the police oversight panel.”

Interview questions

The panel will develop some standardized questions for candidates but also ask followup questions when/where appropriate and pertinent.

Restorative justice

“The Implementation Team does not recommend incorporating restorative justice practices into the police disciplinary process. Such practices are typically used in an education or correctional facility to address situations where criminal charges would otherwise be warranted. The Implementation Team does believe that creating an avenue for officers to avoid criminal charges was the intent of the council or would be consistent with the expectations of the public.”

If you go: 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 10. Watch: online, YouTube or Channel 8

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

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