Instead of the basic update it once planned, Boulder Police Department now intends to create a new master plan document that uses community feedback to reimagine the role of police in Boulder.
Boulder City Council in its study session on Tuesday heard more about the status of the police department master plan, and councilmembers largely supported the city’s new vision.
When developing the master plan update process, the city realized that “the scope was probably not just a minor update of the 2013 master plan but really taking a step back with a broad scope to re-envision policing in the city,” according to Wendy Schwartz, who works in the city’s housing and human services department but is serving as project manager for the Boulder Police Department master planning process.
A number of questions have been raised by the community and police department staff that signal the time is right for a fresh start, a staff memo provided to council on Tuesday stated.
The main issues that led to this decision, which were outlined in the staff memo, include the role of police in community issues such as homelessness and behavioral health; racial equity; community relationships and trust; actual and/or perceived changes in crime rates in the city; determining the right level of police presence in the community; recruiting and retaining the right staff; and ensuring police officers have the right tools and equipment to do their jobs.
These issues were compounded by national protests following the murder of George Floyd, a Black man, at the hands of a white Minnesota police officer in May, as well as the local scrutiny that happened after a slew of incidents involving Boulder police officers, including one in March 2019 when a Black Naropa University student was confronted by a Boulder police officer while picking up trash outside of his home.
Additionally, data released in 2019 indicated people of color were more likely to stopped by Boulder officers and more likely to be arrested, though the majority of the arrests were non-discretionary, which the police department says leaves officers without a choice since the person was caught committing a felony or with a warrant out for their arrest.
Upon her hire last April, Boulder Police Chief Maris Herold committed to reforming the department.
Understanding and defining safety is an important part of the work moving forward, according to Sarah Huntley, Boulder’s communication and engagement director.
“Safety is a fundamental part of Boulder Police Department’s mission,” she said. “But we’re learning that safety means different things to different people, and what one person perceives as a safe situation might feel very different to somebody else.”
Marina LaGrave, a Venezuelan immigrant who serves on the Boulder Police Department master plan process subcommittee, is helping to engage Boulder’s Latinx community through a Latinx leadership team.
LaGrave agreed with Huntley, who acknowledged that the first phase of community engagement is meant for open-ended conversations that help develop themes that are important to the community.
“That’s what’s going to be key in moving forward,” LaGrave said.
Huntley noted that she hopes to create a team of Black Boulder residents, similar to the Latinx team working with LaGrave, considering “the Black community, in particular has had unique experiences with policing and given the institutionalized roots of policing in cultures and practices of slavery.”
Councilmember Junie Joseph, who serves as the Council representative on the process committee alongside Bob Yates, is the sole Black member of council. She recommended the University of Colorado Boulder as a resource for connecting with young Black Boulder residents and other people of color.
Either way, Joseph said it’s important to get a sense of where various communities stand on the issue of policing.
“People have different perspectives on policing and different communities have different needs,” Joseph said.
Councilmember Adam Swetlik noted that the two-year process is a long one and will include two separate Councils considering a number of seats are up for election in November. With the new master plan tentatively scheduled for adoption in February 2023, Swetlik said it will be important to ensure a smooth transition between the current Council and the new one. There will be five community engagement periods and seven Council check-ins ahead of the plan’s adoption.
To Swetlik’s point, the fact that the beginning will be more conceptual is helpful, according to Huntley. City Council won’t have to decide specific goals until later in the process.