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How the Boulder Police Department is responding to mental health calls and dealing with homeless encampments dominated the discussion during Thursday’s town hall meeting.

About 15 people attended the first in-person Boulder Police Department town hall at the police department headquarters, 1805 33rd St.

Chief Maris Herold planned to address the questions and discuss Boulder’s crime rate during the meeting but was unable to attend the town hall because of a personal emergency. Instead, 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, began the conversation by updating attendees on where the police department is in that process.

Schwartz said the city is in the first “engagement window.” During this initial stage, residents are being asked to fill out a questionnaire to rank the most important topics to them. The topics include determining a resource level for policing, clarifying the role that police play in broader community problems such as mental health and homelessness; improving community engagement and relationships; achieving racial equity; addressing crime and preventing harm; ensuring a qualified and healthy workforce; and improving transparency and accountability.

After receiving feedback from residents, the city plans to analyze the data in August to determine major themes that should be included in the master plan, Schwartz said.

“Then of course in the next engagement window, we could say once we’ve agreed on the key things, what are some possible strategies to address the key themes that are important to people?” she said.  “It’s that sort of a step by step process, but right now it is the first engagement window so it is really vague and broad.”

The master plan is expected to be complete in October 2022.

During the town hall, Sarah Huntley, director of Boulder Communications and Engagement, reviewed the list of topics residents are being asked to rank on the questionnaire. Residents at the meeting primarily focused on the first two items on the list: determining a resource level for policing and clarifying the role that police play in broader community problems.

Boulder resident Debbie Davia asked if the Boulder Police Department has looked into having psychiatrists or mental health advocates respond to mental health calls rather than officers.

Schwartz said Boulder does have a program with four trained clinicians called the Crisis Intervention Response Team. As a part of that program, the clinicians respond to behavioral health calls along with officers.

This program replaced Early Diversion Get Engaged, which Boulder operated via a contract with Mental Health Partners.

“That’s something that is relatively new for the city staff that just started for the beginning of the year,” she said. “The department found that officers were finding it very helpful to have that expertise along when there was a call with fundamental behavioral health aspects to it.”

The city is still determining the best method to build a data system to collect the information from the hundreds of behavioral health calls it receives every year, Schwartz said.

When the Boulder Police Department is examining data centered on mental health, Holly Carlson asked if there is also data being collected for the homeless encampments.

“I want to know if we are going to have real data showing if these people are taking help,” she said. “Are they sticking to the program, because from what I hear, we have a lot of resistance and they are causing more chaos,” she said.

Huntley said the city is aware of the issue of homeless encampments and is also frustrated with the situation.

“We know it’s a big concern, and it’s a big concern of the police department, but they are trying to figure out how to address it from (an) enforcement issue and from a mental (health) issue, which includes the conversation for more funding and more resources for meth addiction in our community,” she said.

Hope Michelsen said she wants to see more police resources in the Hill area to assist with the destruction people are causing in the neighborhood.

Huntley said she has been involved in many conversations with the University of Colorado Boulder, the city and neighbors in the area about short-term, mid-term and long-term solutions for the crime on the Hill.

“There is a very active conversation going on about that,” she said.

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