A draft Boulder Police Department master plan envisions a city in which police work together with the community to reduce harm.
In order to get there, the plan outlines community values, focus areas and specific strategies that would require about $1.8 million in one-time expenses and about $3.9 million in ongoing expenses across a five-year period.
But following a lengthy discussion, the plan left some of the six councilmembers who attended Thursday’s City Council study session — Mayor Aaron Brockett and Councilmembers Mark Wallach and Bob Yates were absent — wondering whether the current draft goes far enough in its goal to reimagine policing in the city.
“I think we have an outstanding police department. I am not naïve. I don’t believe societies can exist without a criminal justice system,” Mayor Pro Tem Rachel Friend said Thursday. “I just wonder if we’ve gone broadly enough in reimagining. We’re doing this once every 10 years. We’re at this pivotal moment.”
The Boulder Police Department master plan was last updated in 2013. For the current update, officials decided that instead of embarking on a traditional master plan update, the city should use the opportunity to take a step back and reenvision policing in Boulder.
Transparency and accountability, racial equity, community relationships and trust and actual and/or perceived changes in crime rates in the city are among the issues that inspired this decision.
This was further compounded by national protests following the death of George Floyd, a Black man, who was killed by a white Minnesota police officer in May 2020, 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 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 nondiscretionary, 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.
When addressing the City Council on Thursday, Police Chief Maris Herold emphasized the national momentum for reform after Floyd’s death. She also referenced the police inaction during the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde, Texas, earlier this year.
“These incidents remind us of the significant and structural issues that still exist in 21st century policing in America,” she said, adding, “Never in my 30-year career have I witnessed such an opportunity to make meaningful and thoughtful change in policing.”
Herold, who has a background in police reform, joined Boulder’s staff in April 2020 with a commitment to bring change to the department.
The draft plan presented Thursday references Floyd’s death several times. It also notes the changing work dynamic, wherein police officers are responding to fewer calls but spending more time on each, and the increase in property and violent crimes.
However, there is no mention of the local incidents that led to calls for reform.
This is problematic, as true change requires specificity and honesty, some councilmembers argued.
“Just saying things is not enough. If we want to make a difference in the community, we have to show the community that we’re doing the work,” Councilmember Junie Joseph said.
Diversity on staff is one potential solution, and it’s outlined as a key strategy in the draft plan.
Between July 2020 and December 2021, 25% of the 44 new police officer hires have been women, the staff memo for Thursday’s meeting notes. Of all new hires, 30 identify as white, while two identify as Black or African American, 10 as Hispanic or Latino and two as Asian or Pacific Islander.
In its effort to bring on more diverse officers, Herold said the city has a number of tactics such as advertising jobs at historically Black policing institutions and working with the University of Colorado Boulder.
Still, it’s proven challenging.
“This, I can tell you, is one of the hardest things facing policing right now, is recruiting for diversity,” she said.
But Joseph said it could call for some self-reflection.
“It doesn’t take years to hire someone,” she said. “We have to do a better job in our community of making people feel welcome and also at inviting them in.
“If you can’t find police officers of color, maybe we need to look internally and say why,” she added. “Why is it so difficult?”
Now that the draft master plan is complete, the community will soon have a chance to weigh in.
Boulder brought on the National Policing Institute to lead this round of engagement, which includes a statistically valid community survey as well as alternative nonsurvey feedback opportunities meant to reach those who are most likely to have had “diverse lived experiences with policing.”
Through some of its earlier community engagement work, Boulder identified six guiding community values:
- Free to enjoy public and private spaces without fear of them;
- Laws are enforced equitably;
- Police resources and alternative responses applied professionally and appropriately;
- Demonstrate compassion, support basic needs to be free from crime for all;
- Criminal behavior met with fair and just accountability balanced with resourcing underlying issues; and
- Community policing building relationships to address problems.
The draft also outlines a number of strategies, including creating alternative responses to community problems, improving training and engagement, continuing to independently review complaints through Boulder’s Police Oversight Panel and ensuring transparency in stop, arrest and use of force data.
The city is in the process of collecting this data, and researchers will provide an analysis and recommendations in the fall.
Boulder is also instituting a holistic employee wellness program to support its officers.
“Officers will try to work through pain, depression and anxiety, sometimes resulting in negative interactions in the community,” Herold said.
Generally, the councilmembers who were present Thursday were supportive of the community values and strategies outlined in the plan.
Training is a big priority for Herold. For example, according to the draft plan, in 2021, Boulder spent an average of $2,327 in training per officer while other benchmark cities spent an average of $1,156 per officer.
This is something several councilmembers commended.
“The focus on training we have … is really excellent,” Councilmember Lauren Folkerts said.
In order to meet strategies outlined in the plan, many of which entail new projects or technology or additional staff, the police department reports it will need $1.77 million in one-time expenses and $3.89 million in ongoing costs that will be phased in across the five-year implementation period.
One-time expenses include costs for police academy startup, robot replacement and consultant and personnel expenses. The ongoing costs are allocated for purposes such as salary and benefits, vehicles and equipment and ongoing training expenses.
The conversation in general is a hard one, and there were tense moments Thursday.
“The more I listen to this conversation, the more stressed it makes me, actually,” Joseph, the sole Black member of the City Council, said. “I think some of us could really, really use some education.”
As it concluded, some again urged specificity. The plan should clearly identify what success will look like and what the plan aims to accomplish.
Staff acknowledged the point, noting that some of this will come after it collects information on the draft plan.
“We really want the community’s actual feedback on the draft plan,” Human Services Policy Manager Wendy Schwartz said. “We want to really, genuinely consider the possibility that we might need to change some things or add some things or do some things differently than the way they’re described right now.”
The city will open up the next community engagement window later this summer. It plans to release a revised draft plan in October with another chance for community input. The Boulder City Council will get the final say on the plan in a public hearing in December.