This issue is too important to be treated as a trend.
By Sara Bruskin
This spring and summer, protests across the nation brought attention to the disproportionate levels of police brutality directed at people of color. The Black Lives Matter movement gained widespread recognition and support, but the fight is far from over. We all have a responsibility to keep this conversation going until we achieve true equality under the law, so let’s take a look at what local progress has been made toward that goal.
Colorado’s Senate Bill 20-217 brought several statewide changes, but Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle says most of them were already standard protocol in our county—neck restraints haven’t been allowed here for decades, and officers must use verbal warnings before applying force, when possible. His department did have to pivot to comply with the bill’s requirement that officers report racial and ethnic information on police-citizen contacts.
Pelle says, “We had demographic information on arrests and summonses, but we didn’t have it on police contacts. That’s still really tricky because it relies on perception and it’s really difficult to do in many cases without asking someone how they identify in regards to both race and ethnicity.”
While difficult to gather, this information is vitally important, as Sepideh Miller, member of NAACP Boulder County notes. “The data that we have seen to date is very disturbing—it clearly reveals a disproportionate number of interactions/stops experienced by Black persons throughout the county,” she says. “Police officers and departments must realize that, even though in most instances no citation was given, these interactions still cause harm. Our goal is to understand why and to work with law enforcement to bring these numbers into proportion.”
In pursuit of a common goal, Pelle’s department has implemented staff training with Courageous Conversation™, a racial equality training protocol by Pacific Educational Group. Department policy already mandates annual anti-bias training for all officers, but Pelle is hoping this supplemental program combined with a new county equity committee will help more. He says, “The county has invested in something called GARE [Government Alliance on Race and Equity] that will help the committee comb out any issues in our policy that we just don’t see in terms of language or impacts.”
In the city of Boulder specifically, the local NAACP branch worked with city council members to create a police oversight task force. Miller says, “The ultimate goal is to create a Boulder Police Oversight Committee that will include members from the community along with others from various entities. The final details of the ordinance are being finalized and selection for the Board will then commence.”
Louisville’s mayor, Ashley Stolzmann, says their local officers participate in annual trainings on explicit and implicit bias, use of force and response to resistance. “The police department has developed a number of outreach programs, as well, in an effort to address community needs,” she says. “This includes mental health services. Through our partnership with Community Reach Center, we currently have a clinician available to respond with our officers to incidents that involve a known or suspected behavioral health issue.”
Police departments in Boulder, Superior, Lafayette and Erie have similar partnerships with Mental Health Partners in a program called EDGE [Early Diversion, Get Engaged]. Pelle is hoping to expand it further in the near future.
We’re making progress against injustices that have persisted for far too long. While our community is largely taking this issue seriously, it’s not time to pat ourselves on the back yet. There’s still a lot of work to do, and our reputation as a progressive county does not mean we are blameless in the systemic racism of our country. We need to hold ourselves accountable, make noise and make a difference. ■