Boulder Police Department’s Homeless Outreach Team officers are off the street right now.
Both members of the two-officer team normally tasked with serving as the department’s liaisons to homeless people in Boulder are working from behind desks.
Officers Jenny Paddock and Abel Ramos were the first two officers chosen to serve on the team when it was started in 2016 by now-retired police chief Greg Testa.
But one of team’s officers has fallen “gravely ill,” City Manager Jane Brautigam said to city council on Tuesday. The other is currently unable to patrol for unknown reasons. Police spokesperson Laurie Ogden declined to identify which officer is unhealthy and why the other is off of the street, citing a need for privacy in the matters.
“They’re working in the office, handling phone calls, whatever they can do from the office,” Ogden said.
The issue was brought to city council’s attention by resident Darren O’Connor during open comment at Tuesday’s meeting. He said homeless people have raised concerns about their interactions with officers since the Homeless Outreach Team members have been absent from patrol.
But Ogden said she has not heard of those issues from the homeless community, adding that she might not be as privy to such complaints as other department officials. She did not return a follow-up inquiry into how long the Homeless Outreach Team has been inactive in public.
The Homeless Outreach Team is assigned to staying visible in areas of the city where homeless people gather in order to build trust, and to proactively patrol areas occupied by homeless individuals in order to develop working relationships with them and provide referrals to resources intended to end the cycle of homelessness.
Councilmembers Aaron Brockett and Cindy Carlisle directed City Manager Jane Brautigam to look into whether additional police staff could be trained to serve in the Homeless Outreach Team capacity in the absence of Paddock and Ramos.
“I would hope that our department isn’t so depleted that we couldn’t fill in during this time,” Carlisle said.
Ogden acknowledged the department is short-staffed, but City Attorney Tom Carr said the nature of the Homeless Outreach Team’s duties makes it difficult to fill.
“It’s not a matter of depletion,” Carr said. “Those officers are very special in what they do, and not any officer can do it. … It’s a challenging assignment that those officers do well.”
The department is in the process of training other officers to serve as Homeless Outreach Team members, but is unsure when they will be ready to take on the role, Ogden said. She added that even when the team is active, other officers also are in “constant contact” with the homeless community.
“Two people can’t handle all that by themselves,” Ogden said.
Testa’s retirement will not end the department’s use of the team whose creation he spearheaded, Ogden said.
“We’re committed to maintaining the team once staffing allows,” Ogden said. “We’re very aware of how important the Homeless (Outreach Team) is.”