Members of our Community Editorial Board, a group of community residents who are engaged with and passionate about local issues, respond to the following question: Boulder is preparing for the final stage of reenvsioning its police department, and the Police Oversight Panel is seeking to expand its membership. Your take?
In an ideal society, there would be very clear rules that govern what is and is not illegal, and there would be an established protocol for enforcing those rules. Everyone would understand how the system works and have faith that they will be treated fairly within that system. We would all know how to report crimes or violations, have a clear understanding of the timeline by which our reports would be handled and trust that justice would be served. Likewise, anyone accused of a crime would be treated by the same standards as any other accused member of society.
But we don’t live in an ideal society. Hence the effort to reform the Boulder Police Department and to establish the Police Oversight Panel.
Now the city has spent tens of thousands of dollars to reimagine the department and has been transparent about the process. These websites — bouldercolorado.gov/projects/reimagine-policing and www.beheardboulder.org/reimagine-policing — offer specific information about procedures and objectives.
The police department holds monthly town meetings, in person and online, and if a person had a lot of free time on her hands, she could read through all of the online information and come to a better understanding of the myriad elements that go into policing our community.
Which is to say: while the effort to inform deserves recognition, the communication could be improved. The material available online is dense and difficult to navigate. For the community to truly understand what a reimagined Boulder Police Department looks like, we should get a clear list of reforms that have been or will be implemented. This should be in an easy-to-read format and should also include context about how each reform differs from the status quo.
Meanwhile, the Police Oversight Panel seems stuck in transition. Four members have resigned since the panel started meeting in February 2021, the panel is trying to recruit more members, and the website is out of date, still listing Jen Livovich, who resigned earlier this month, on its roster.
The website does not specify the complaints the panel has heard or the recommendations it gave (or if it does, I did not find it after searching for some time).
According to news articles, the panel has actively weighed in on multiple complaints about the police. I’d like to know more. To achieve the type of transparency the panel aspires to, it should regularly post the number and nature of complaints it considers and the outcome.
If the goal is to build community trust in policing and also to hold the department accountable, the more (easily available) public information, the better.
Rachel Walker, email@example.com
Andrew Pinckney’s June 10 article on the struggling Boulder Police Oversight Panel suggests that the high turnover rate (four members resigned since its founding last year) is a result of having to review an “overwhelming workload.” Thus, the POP is looking to expand the number of members with permission of the Boulder City Council.
My first thought was, “How many complaints are actually being filed against the Boulder police?” Although the Office of the Police Monitor has not yet posted its 2021 annual report, by going through the minutes of the POP meetings one can find that a total of 55 complaints were filed in 2021, of which 11 allegations across nine cases (each case can have multiple allegations of misconduct) were sustained against officers. Around 10 new complaints have been filed in the first four months of this year (April minutes being the latest available online), but 15 previous cases are still open and under review.
Is that a large number, a small number, or about average number of complaints for a town about the size of Boulder? It is hard to say: Available data are all over the place. My gut sense is that this is not on the high side (though we would prefer none, of course).
But of greater interest in this context is trying to understand what is involved in reviewing complaints, i.e., what are the demands being made of the volunteers who make up the POP?
It does seem there are other tasks than complaint reviews that have burdened the POP members recently, the most immediate being the drafting and approval of their bylaws (never a fun process in any organization). But I still find it a bit hard to believe that it is only workload itself that underlies at least some of the high turnover.
City Ordinance 8430, which sets up the police oversight function(s), does lay out a substantial list of responsibilities for the POP members, but without any specific reference to supporting resources. The POP’s responsibilities can only be met if particular resourcing “features,” as identified by the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement, are in place: independence, adequate funding, unfettered access to personnel and records, ability to influence decisionmakers, authority to carry out its mandate, community and stakeholder support, and transparency that is as complete as possible .
Recruiting new members is fine, but they (and the current members) really need to be fully empowered, their mission clearly defined and their contributions publicly recognized.
Fintan Steele, firstname.lastname@example.org
I had heard of the formation of the Police Oversight Panel years ago. But beyond that, I was unaware of its existence. Prior to writing this opinion piece, I had no idea how many members were on the panel, what their purpose was, nor what they sought to accomplish.
I haven’t seen any discussion regarding the panel on social media, nor have I been a target of any potential community outreach. Right off the bat, this makes me wary that the creation of the panel was no more than a checkbox in the City Council’s reenvisioning of its Police Department.
Digging a little deeper into data regarding the panel, I noticed that it checks all of the progressive agenda checkboxes: Indigenous land acknowledgment? Check. BIPOC, Latin* panelists? Check.
However, data on its effectiveness and the number of cases they handle is nonexistent. All that I was able to find is that Daniel Leonard, co-chair of the panel, is requesting that two additional seats be added to the panel to help with their workload. After a year of high turnover of panel members, the lack of hands on deck is preventing them from fulfilling their role, which is to review internal complaint investigations within the police department and to make recommendations for change.
I’m all for having somebody to complain to if I have a wrongful altercation with a police officer. But again, beyond checking some progressive buzzwords, it seems this panel has been largely forgotten and already set for failure. Furthermore, it appears that at the end of the day, the real power of decision lies ultimately with the Boulder Police Department.
At most, the panel can provide recommendations, which on paper looks good; but in practice, I’m sure the BPD can ignore.
We are not the only jurisdiction trying to define a new way of policing in our communities. I’m also not sure whether this oversight panel is a step in the right or the wrong direction. But based on its performance so far, and how little support it has received from the Boulder City Council, I’m inclining toward the latter.
Hernán Villanueva, email@example.com