Professional Standards Review Panel

Qualifications: Must be at least 21 and have lived in Boulder for three years. Cannot have any felony convictions or misdemeanor citations in the last five years.

Term: Applicants are asked to make a two-year commitment.

Applications: Due by March 14. Chosen applicants will be interviewed by a selection committee before being forwarded to the city manager's office for final selection.

More info. or to apply: Call Sgt. Kerry Yamaguchi at 303-441-3312 or email yamaguchik@bouldercolorado.gov.

After a series of high-profile arrests of Boulder police officers in 2012, many residents voiced online opinions about appropriate punishment for cops who cross the line.

In the coming weeks, four Boulder residents could become part of the process that helps determine such discipline.

The Boulder Police Department is looking to replace four community members of the Professional Standards Review Panel, a group of 12 people who review serious internal investigations into officers and make recommendations to Chief Mark Beckner.

"There are a lot of different volunteer positions in the city, and I think this is one of the most important ones," Beckner said. "You help monitor and ensure the police department is operating in the right way, meeting the needs of the community and serving the community based on the expectations and values of the community."

On the review panel are three officers or detectives, one sergeant and two members of the Boulder Municipal Employees Association, which represents the police department's non-commissioned employees -- such as dispatchers, clerks, accident investigators and code enforcement officers. The other six are members of the Boulder community.

Four of those six community members will be leaving the panel, so the city is looking for volunteers to replace them.

Bruce Green is one of the two who will be staying on. A National Renewable Energy Laboratory science writer, Green said he volunteered as a way to give back to the community.

"I wanted to do something of local relevance," he said. "I wanted to help."

The investigation

While the criminal aspect of any case involving a police officer is handled by the agency that made the arrest and the District Attorney's Office, an investigation to determine departmental discipline is handled by internal affairs.

Sgt. Kerry Yamaguchi, internal affairs investigator for the Boulder Police Department, handles every investigation into serious allegations of misconduct. A serious allegation is any which -- if proven -- could result in an officer being suspended, demoted, transferred or terminated.

"It's interesting because it is different," Yamaguchi said of his role. "Before this, it was always criminal investigations. Now I conduct investigations into violations of department rules or policies. However, in a lot of respects it's not any different. You collect evidence, you interview people and assemble a case."

At times, that means Yamaguchi has to interview people he worked with before he went into internal investigations in 2008.

"Is it awkward? It can be at times when you're interviewing someone you know," he said. "But at the very same time, it's very straightforward, you ask the same type of questions and document it the same way, and you do your job."

Once Yamaguchi's investigation is complete, it is given to a chain of supervisors, who make recommendations on discipline before it lands in the hands of the review panel.

The review panel

While the entire investigation is made available to the review panel, the disciplinary recommendations of the supervisors are not.

"We don't want them to be influenced by that," Yamaguchi said. "All they see is the investigation in front of them."

Green said sometimes going through an investigation can mean reading 800-page reports in addition to watching DVDs or listening to audio recordings.

Once all the members of the panel have had a chance to review the investigation, they come together to determine if it was conducted fairly and then to make a recommendation on a disposition. It doesn't have to be a unanimous decision.

"The folks that are on this panel are all pretty sharp folks, thank goodness, yet being different types of professionals we come at it from different angles," Green said. "For me, being a science writer, I ask, 'Does this fit together in a rational way?'"

The recommendations are sent to Beckner. He has the ultimate say, but Beckner said he always values the input from the review panel.

"I think it's very important that we get some insight from people outside the department, and it has proven to be very valuable to us," Beckner said. "I take them very seriously, and I give them a lot of consideration. It doesn't happen very often where what I'm thinking is far from what the recommendation ends up being."

Green said he thinks Beckner is "very sincere when he says he really wants to know how the community feels."

Having community members on the panel makes sure all of the questions are being asked, Green said.

"There's not a question the community members like to poke things around a little bit," he said. "The community, naturally having not been in that environment of 24/7 police work, has a lot of natural questions."

Yamaguchi said the community members "may have the ability to look at things with maybe a broader view. ... They have a more realistic view of incidents and people's behavior that is useful."

'One of the better systems'

Yamaguchi said he conducted eight investigations in 2012.

In some recent cases, the officers involved resigned before Beckner made a ruling on discipline.

Christian McCracken resigned after being charged with attempted murder on suspicion of threatening to kill his ex-girlfriend's new boyfriend. McCracken eventually pleaded guilty to one count of stalking.

Elizabeth Ward and Scott Morris each resigned after being arrested on suspicion of DUI in 2012.

Sam Carter and Brent Curnow resigned after being charged with nine counts each in the shooting and disposal of an elk in the Mapleton Hill area Jan. 1 of this year.

Although those five cases prompted scrutiny of the police department, Beckner said the review system works, and the community's role in it is one of the main reasons why.

"The fact that we have had a couple of high-profile cases doesn't change the fact that we have always taken the role of internal affairs seriously," Beckner said. "I think we have one of the better systems around. It's balanced, and that's always important. You have to have a system respected by the employees of the organization and by the community."

Yamaguchi said officials require a two-year commitment but generally discourage people from serving on the panel for too long.

"I don't think we've had anyone serve more than four years," he said. "Most people serve two to three years."

So with two years under his belt, Green will be one of the veterans on the panel, and he said he would recommend it.

"It's as simple as doing something for your community," he said. "You're one part of the puzzle, one part of the machine that makes sure it is all done fairly."

Green said he was a criminal justice student in college, and one of the things he took away from his ride-alongs as a student was a different view of cops. He said his time on the review panel has only reinforced that.

"You come to realize they are very normal people," he said. "It confirms what I learned years ago, that by and large these are folks with pretty high integrity. If you have an apple basket big enough you always get a bad apple, but by and large they were professional, dedicated, rigorous and take their job seriously, as they should."

Contact Camera Staff Writer Mitchell Byars at 303-473-1329 or byarsm@dailycamera.com.