Boulder PD Vows to Makes Changes to Normalize Race Relations

By: Charlie Howard

BOULDER - On April 5, 2016 Boulder City Council approved recommendations to reevaluate the way Boulder Police collect arrest and traffic data as well as revising department policy on the use of race to profile potential criminals.

These recommendations were provided to the council in a special study session conducted on February 23, 2016 by Hillard Heintze, an independent strategic advisory firm that specializes in evaluations of law enforcement agencies.

This independent evaluation of the Boulder Police Department came as a direct response to a 2014 USA Today study that found that in 2011-12, 568.5 per 1,000 arrests in Boulder were black people. This meant that over 50 percent of all arrests in the city of Boulder involved a black person while black people only made up 2.5 percent of Boulders population, according to official documents provided by the Boulder Economic Council.

“Boulder has been one of the nicest looking places but it has been one of the worst as far as a feeling of comfort and belonging,” Derrick Jones, a resident of Boulder who is black, said in an interview in 2014.

According to official documents provided by Hillard Heintze, I was their job to “evaluate the structure and processes of Boulder Police Departments Professional Standards Review Panel and provide recommendations for the implementation and best practices that will ensure public trust and credibility as well as police accountability.”

After the six months it took for Hillard Heintze to conduct the study, the firm to had 16 key findings and 12 primary recommendations titled “Actions that will make a difference,” that were presented to the council on how the police department could change some of their policies.

Click here to see the key findings done by Hillard Heintze.  

The first six key findings were based on a review of the police department’s data and interviews with police command, officers, city and personal stakeholders in terms of the stops made by Boulder police. The last ten findings are based upon the investigative process dealing with complaints and interviews between people in the community and other stakeholders.

The study points out the extreme difficulty in understanding the complexity of an issue like this saying “Any study of racial bias in policing must invariably face several challenges…no statistical test can tell us exactly what was in the mind of an officer when an enforcement decision was made.”

The review of police data suggested that police might have been disproportionately filing stops for black citizens compared to that of non-black citizens by their decision to use field interview cards which are useable at an officers discretion and are entered into records if filled out.

The 12 recommendations of the Hillard Heintze report included revisions to traffic stop data collection procedure, the field interview process and policies for using race as proxy for criminality and officer training in ethics and accountability. 

Click here to see the Hillard Heintze recommendations to council.

The formerly homeless South Sudanese refugee resident of Boulder, Patrice, who decline to tell me his last name, doesn’t believe that these changes are going to be enough to change the culture in Boulder because he says the issue is not about black people and white people.

“It is the idea of this town that these officers protect. They targeted me when I was sleeping. If they didn’t arrest me when they found me, they would wait until I left and then they would through away my stuff,” Patrice, said.

The City of Boulder has a ban on camping and in particular, the use of shelter while sleeping. Shelter can be defined as any form of covering such as a sleeping bag, a back pack, an extra T-shirt, and in one case even a tree branch, according to official documents.

A study published by the University of Denver’s Strum College of Law, said that Boulder has handed out out more camping ban citations in between 2010-2014, than any other city in Colorado combined. In those four years Boulder has handed out 1767 citations compared to the rest of Colorado’s 1061 citations.

“One of the first nights I was here it was snowing and I was denied from the shelter. I went inside an office building to get warm and the Police showed up and kicked me out immediately,” Patrice said.

“The majority of people I see getting harassed by the police are homeless and especially us black homeless,” Patrice said.

“Its not the policies it is the culture that need to change. Cops are in a brotherhood where they look out for each other rather than serve and protect their communities. The police make me afraid and that is a lack of communication on their part,” Patrice said.

“I want to go back to my country, I don’t feel welcome here. I wish something would change,” Patrice said

The report published by Hillard Heintze said, “Faced with the type of information revealed in our report, agencies typically respond in one of three ways: 1. Some continue to deny the possible existence of implicit bias on the part of their officers and cite, for example, the lack of citizen complaints. 2. Others make some incremental changes such as revising policy or requiring officers to attend a cultural awareness course. 3. Well-led, progressive agencies, however, view the information as a real opportunity for reform.”

“We’re working to implement the recommendations that were provided by Hillard Heintze and our goal is to do everything we can to make the police department better. Those areas that were identified where we could maybe improve our service are things we are interested in working on,” Deputy Chief of Boulder Police, Curtis Johnson, said in an interview.

When asked what specific actions would be taken within the department as they relate to the Hillard Heintze study, Chief Johnson said that he simply didn’t know which recommendations would be used which ones would not.

“We are going to need more time to figure out the logistics of implementation as well as a realistic timeline,” Chief Johnson said.

Click here to see full report presented to council by Hillard Heintze.