From the opinion panel: More realistic policies will protect police oversight work

Friday, May 19, 2023

Boulder’s police oversight work has been bogged down with a heavy workload, public scrutiny and an extended search for a new independent monitor. Now, after the removal of one of its members, the panel voted to stop reviewing complaints until their guiding charter can be fixed. How can and should the city move forward? What changes would you like to see?

Andrea Steffes-Tuttle: Police Oversight Panel bias provision shuts out key voices 

I was surprised when members of the Boulder City Council voted 5-2 to remove a member of the Police Oversight Panel. Lisa Sweeney-Miran was accused of bias against the police based on statements she’d made online calling for police reform. Council members said they voted for her removal to ensure public trust in the panel’s work.

In response to the removal, Rachel Friend suggested that it was in service of removing barriers to the panel’s work. Yet, as of May 10, the panel has suspended its work.

Council member Rachel Friend, who voted for her removal, said that if Sweeney-Miran were to stay on, it would “threaten the legal sustainability” of the panel’s work. If officers were disciplined based on the recommendations of a panel that included Sweeney-Miran, she said, they would likely appeal and “have pretty strong evidence for reversal.”

The council’s choice to remove Sweeney-Miran has had the opposite effect of what council members say is its intended effect, and has degraded my trust in the efficacy of the panel.

The case against Sweeney-Miran is grounded in a provision in the ordinance that defines how the panel operates. It states that its members must show “an absence of any real or perceived bias.”

This provision is a problem. Bias will always exist, and to not acknowledge that, and fail to set up policies to account for bias, is a mistake. The vote by the council to punish one member of the panel for their advocacy for police reform seems antithetical to the work the city set out to do setting up the panel in the first place.

The police oversight panel was established in 2020 in reaction to an event in 2019 when a city officer drew his gun on a Black Naropa University student, Zayd Atkinson. If you’ve seen this footage, you know that it’s terrifying and infuriating. The treatment of Atkinson by Boulder Police is appalling in its abuse of power for what appears to be power’s sake.

This kind of behavior is happening too often: The violence exerted by U.S. law enforcement is increasing. In 2022, U.S. law enforcement killed 1,176 people — the most on record since the killings started being tracked in 2013.

The police in this country have a monopoly on state violence. As a public, we have decided that police have the right to exert violence on people in certain situations. In response, we as a public should be highly critical of police activities when they abuse that power.

To require that no members have any biases against police is absurd and likely will eliminate anyone who has ever had a negative incident with police from serving on the panel. These are often the voices of the marginalized members of our community. I want those voices on the police oversight panel.

Now we find ourselves back at the start, with the panel halting their work and no oversight. I understand that the work of police reform is hard work. There will be starts and stops, and we will learn along the way. I think our city council made a bad call. I hope that, instead of getting in the way of the work, our city is trying to institute more responsible policing.

They can help support the work of future panelists by recognizing there will always be bias and setting up policies that protect the panel members.

Andrea is a Boulder-native and entrepreneur, currently enrolled as graduate student in the Anthropology department at CU Boulder. More about Andrea

Teddy Weverka: Narrow the focus of the Police Oversight Panel

The Police Oversight Panel is mired in controversy. In response, Boulder may try to change the selection process and the charter of the future panel. We can improve the panel in the next iteration.

In response to a disturbing video showing a Boulder police officer escalating a conflict with a Black man enrolled at Naropa, Boulder passed a law establishing a citizen Police Oversight Panel in addition to the civilian Police Monitor. The law directs the city when, selecting panel members, to “strive to include” women, people of color, LGTBQ, and people who have experienced homelessness or been previously incarcerated. (2-11-6 (10) Boulder Revised Code)

In spite of the panel being recruited for this target demographic, the panel was given the responsibility for all police complaints, regardless of the demographics. And the panel has complained of the workload. Most of the workload is outside the target demographics. The Police Oversight Panel report (page 42) shows that a majority of complainants are white (68%) and male (38 of 49, or 78%).

The solution is to separate cases in which the complaint comes from women, people of color, LGTBQ and people who have experienced homelessness. We can send these cases to the Police Oversight Panel (POP) for review and let the Police Monitor review the rest without further panel oversight. This will significantly reduce the POP workload and let POP focus on the task it was created for.

With this narrower focus, the panel member selection process will be less controversial as well, since the narrow panel charter will align with the narrow panel-member selection process.

Teddy Weverka is an engineer in Boulder where he enjoys photography and keeping backyard chickens. More about Teddy


Boulder Beat Opinion Panel members are writing in their own capacity. Their views do not necessarily reflect those of Boulder Beat.

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1 Comment Leave a comment

  1. You were surprised when CC followed the ordinance? Why? Would you prefer they ignore it? It is fine to object to the ordinance, and push for changing it, but it makes no sense to expect those elected to, among other things, follow the written rules (ordinances) to ignore the ones you don’t like. As for the ordinance itself, sure, it is unrealistic to expect no bias whatsoever, but that doesn’t seem like a reasonable interpretation of the words in the ordinance. LSM’s public statements went well beyond “calling for police reform” (e.g., would you say that the January 6th mob was simply “calling for a review of the election process”?)

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