Following a summer of protests over the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in 2020, the city of Boulder looked inward. That year, its City Council passed an ordinance to establish a police oversight panel led by volunteers from the community.
The ordinance was written with Zayd Atkinson in mind. Atkinson, a Black Naropa University student, went viral on social media in 2019, when he was confronted by Boulder police officers while picking up trash outside his building. One officer who pulled out his gun later reached an agreement to resign and collect $69,000, despite breaching department policy.
The panel’s responsibilities include reviewing complaints against the city’s police and recommending best practices for the department.
Islamic Center of Boulder County and the NAACP of Boulder County jointly nominated nine members to make up the panel’s inaugural roster, who were then approved by Boulder City Council. Each member has a unique background, ranging from marketing at the University of Colorado to quality assurance at a local food manufacturer.
One of the cases the panel reviewed involved the use of force against a 14-year-old boy. After reviewing the details of the case, the committee made the recommendation to reexamine its policies for dealing with juveniles.
“The police chief has been in touch with us, that they're looking at really a more careful biological definition to help guide officers, but that's probably one of the bigger policy recommendations we've made,” said panel co-chair Daniel Leonard.
That was just one of five recommendations made by the panel in its first-ever report. BPD was largely receptive to the guidance, which included emphasizing that officers provide the contact information for the department’s victim’s advocate services to sexual assault victims. However, they are not required to adopt any of the recommendations.
“One of the things we've talked about as a panel altogether is continuing to follow up on these recommendations, continuing to make sure that these recommendations are taken to a positive end point for our community,” Leonard said.
Each member went through training sessions to learn the history of policing, as well as some directly based on what police officers have to learn before joining the force. Ariel Amaru, one of the panel’s co-chairs who works in public policy, said these training sessions helped her gain perspective.
“It helped me a lot in terms of taking away some preconceived notions of what [the history] was, of how policing functions differently in different countries and different parts of our country, of how city councils are organized, of how police unions are organized,” Amaru told CPR News’ Colorado Matters.
The training sessions were meant to help the nine-member panel identify shortcomings in Boulder police protocol. A total of 58 complaints went before the committee.
The report is being touted as a benchmark for future iterations of the panel. Two years in, the panel will soon begin to select new members, as well as bring the total number of members to 11. Leonard said the current panel’s work is meant to be built upon.
“Some of those foundational steps last year in particular, was getting our bylaws written and really setting down our administrative procedures,” Leonard said. “I think in a lot of ways, we're really getting to the conversations now, where there's a lot of good ideation in our public meetings about where we want to go.”
Going forward, the panel wants to do a better job getting the greater community involved.
“A lot of goals for this upcoming year are strengthening our online presence, having community meetings, panel forums, and publicizing the quarterly meetings we have with [Chief Maris Herold],” Amaru said.
The panel meets on the second Thursday of every month. Its next meeting is scheduled for October 13.
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