Boulder Begins “Heavy Lift” on Police Reform After George Floyd Death

Like communities across the country, Boulder is grappling with police reform following the death of George Floyd in Minnesota. KGNU’s Roz Brown says Boulder City Council took up the topic last night.

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The “Defund the Police” movement is gaining momentum in the U.S. following the death of Floyd, a black man who died during an arrest after a white policeman knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes. Critics say police tactics have become militarized and Boulder’s new police chief Maris Herold says it’s because training for police officers has been the same for decades.

“We tell and train cops that if someone escalates, they escalate,” said Herold. “If the subject escalates again, we tell police to further escalate. And the only way to come back down is if the subject de-escalates – and it’s been devastating in policing for 30 years.”

Herold was previously the University of Cincinnati police chief and told council she had first-hand experience with outdated training.

“In my career, I would sit in roll calls and the sergeant would say: ‘Make sure you and your partner go home safe at night.’ This is still being said across the country to police officers. On the other hand, SWAT commanders say this: ‘Make sure no one dies during this incident.’ That might seem nuanced but it’s different training, a different message. So, if at every juncture of the incident you’re concerned about everyone going home at night – that totally changes the paradigm.”

Since the Minnesota incident, it’s been revealed that the officers involved had numerous complaints against them and even questionable credentials prior to joining the police force. Councilmember Junie Joseph asked Herold if she could guarantee that would not happen in Boulder.

“I would like some assurance that it’s possible for us not to hire a police officer who has been fired or had serious disciplinary misconduct,” said Joseph.

“I would not be interested in hiring a person with serious background issues and would not hire that person,” said Herold.

Since the death of George Floyd, some have charged there is systemic racism among police while others believe it’s just a few bad apples. Joseph pressed Herold on getting to the bottom of police misconduct.

“I would imagine that most police officers who go into the field have good intentions and the ones who turn, for lack of better term ‘bad’ is due to many factors including stress, or confrontations,” said Joseph. “So how do we protect these officers? And as a layperson I wonder if we have a system of psychological a evaluation to make sure the good cops are getting help and the bad ones are being supported so they don’t turn bad.”

A protester holds a sign demanding police accountability at a rally in Longmont on Saturday, June 6th.

Herold said the observation was very relevant.

“It’s been many years since President Barack Obama formed the 21st Century Task Force on Policing, with one of the main pillars being officer wellness,” said Herold. “We have to do a better job with that. Boulder has a robust response, but it’s so overlooked in our country.”

Boulder has overhauled its police oversight policies in the past year to include hiring a full-time Independent Police Monitor to review investigations of misconduct and research policies that need reform. At the same time, Herold said transformative changes will be a heavy lift and could take two years. She’d like to see more police officers act as ambassadors and engage with the community.

“I’d like them on foot, bikes, Segways – because it does make the community feel safer,” noted Herold. “But I don’t think putting a 100 cops on bikes will get to the root of why this keeps happening in our country.”

Early in the meeting, the city manager advised council that economic damage to the city’s budget from COVID-19 would make it difficult to change police department funding for 2020, and recommended council take that up in 2021. Shortly thereafter, a caravan of motorists took to the streets to drive by councilmembers homes honking their horns – part of a demonstration effort to defund police as cities grapple with racial justice.