City: Boulder cops collected cans to raise cash for new bomb truck

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Friday, Dec. 11, 2020

City budget documents aren’t typically the most riveting reads, but a recent recap of supplementals to 2020 spending contained a curious line item: $39,000 toward replacement of Boulder’s bomb truck.

The money didn’t come from a government source but from private fundraising — a multi-year can drive by Boulder police officers, according to department spokeswoman Dionne Waugh.

“Some of the money that was raised by the bomb team was done over a period of many years by collecting aluminum cans,” Waugh wrote in response to emailed questions. “This additional amount of $39K was always part of the project but the funding wasn’t appropriated at the time due to an accidental oversight.”

The money brought in by collecting cans covered about 10% of the total $398,979 cost to replace the vehicle. It will cost $24,000 a year to maintain and operate, with a projected lifespan of 15 years.

The existing bomb team vehicle is 17 years old and had become “inefficient with the modern needs required to safely respond to incidents,” Waugh wrote. The vehicle carries the three-person bomb team and its equipment such as “safety gear, new bomb robots, etc.”

All of Boulder County is served by the one team and vehicle. It responds to special events like University of Colorado football games, the Bolder Boulder, visits from high-profile political figures, calls to abandoned property, and reports of suspicious items and packages, as well as assisting SWAT units.

“The regional bomb team is the most heavily utilized specialty team in the county,” Waugh wrote. “The year alone that the funding was originally brought up, the regional bomb team ran 80-100 calls. It has continued to increase.”

Waugh was unable to provide more information about the can drive. Officers involved in the effort “have long since retired,” she wrote, and the bomb team commander declined to be interviewed.

It’s not uncommon in small and medium-sized cities for police to raise money for equipment or even uniforms, according to the National Association of Police Organizations. News stories from all over country attest to that fact.

“I’ve seen all sizes of departments across the country” hold fundraisers for needed gear, said Mark Bliley, president of the Boulder police union. “You find ways to make it work.”

It doesn’t seem to be common in Boulder. Bliley wasn’t aware of this specific effort and couldn’t recall others in the city; Waugh was able to dig up one instance of fundraising, to buy the department’s first robot in 2000.

Budget constraints are a reality in Boulder, Bliley said. “There’s a lot of things during normal times we would have been able to move forward, but we can’t right now.”

Police Chief Maris Herold made a vague reference to “staffing concerns” and being under-resourced during a Dec. 1 crime update to city council; a workload analysis will be finished early next year. Herold expressed hope that medical incidents and welfare checks — which make up nearly 15% of police calls — could be shifted to other agencies, freeing up time for more proactive police work.

The $36.8 million 2021 police department budget is 4.8% smaller than spending in 2020.Still, Boulder spends more on police than anything else: 14% of total city spending and one-quarter of the general fund.  The department employs 280.6 full-time workers, including 104 patrol officers.

Boulder PD will be hosting virtual town halls every other month on second Thursdays.

The briefings will include current updates on crime trends and police reform, along with an opportunity for community members to ask questions. The sessions will be recorded and made available for later viewing.

Sign up here for the Feb. 11 event to receive notification of subsequent town halls.

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

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