A work group associated with Boulder’s Police Oversight Panel has for weeks been working to modify the city’s Police Oversight Ordinance. On Thursday evening, Boulder City Council heard the latest updates on the ordinance work and discussed the progress that has been made so far.
Farah Muscadin, a consultant to the panel who formerly served as police oversight director in Austin, Texas, said there has been “significant progress” made in drafting a new and revised ordinance that could avoid some of the pitfalls of the existing one.
During a presentation to council, Muscadin shared some of her preliminary observations since she began working with the panel in February. When she first started, she attended panel trainings, went on a ride-along, attended panel meetings and met with current and former panelists to get a sense of the panel’s work.
Her first recommendation was that the independent police monitor, whose job is to work closely with the panel and the police department, as well as receive and review police-related complaints, should be a liaison to the panel and not necessarily a member of the panel. Currently, the monitor is considered a non-voting panel member.
The independent monitor role has remained vacant since September. The city recently selected several finalists and held a candidate forum on July 11, but no hiring decision has been announced yet.
Muscadin also said there had been some challenges in defining the scope of the panel, especially around allegations of police misconduct and what the panel’s role is. She said that training for panelists should be standardized and that there should be a standard operating procedure for the panel.
“I think it’s really important that we formalize an onboarding process so that the new panel members are given a lot of support and information and grounding and civilian oversight in the process,” she said.
Muscadin said that based on community feedback, Boulder community members said the panelist selection process was difficult and overwhelming and that it had become too political. At a community event on June 21, some of the overarching pieces of feedback were that police oversight in Boulder needs to be meaningful and productive, the panel should be given more power to make recommendations regarding police and policies, and that the part of the ordinance about “perceived bias” needs to be revisited to help rebuild trust with the community.
Councilmember Bob Yates asked how many of the current challenges with the ordinance come from the ordinance itself, and how much comes from how it’s being implemented.
“My priority would be cleaning up and fixing the things that need to be fixed in the ordinance, but I’m not minimizing some of the changes that might need to be done on the implementation side as well,” Muscadin said.
As an example, Muscadin cited the ordinance’s language of “perceived bias,” saying that’s not something she would have recommended to put in an ordinance.
Mayor Pro Tem Mark Wallach also asked for clarification on why Muscadin advised against having that language in the ordinance, saying he saw bias as a “useful indicator” of performance on the panel.
“I think the key here is the language of ‘perceived bias,’ because even the word ‘perception’ is very gray,” Muscadin said. “We all have some level of bias. … We all have different perceptions.” She said it could be argued that any person on the panel might have “perceived bias.”
Although councilmembers were asked if they wanted to see certain topics explored further in the ordinance, many said they were pleased with the progress on the ordinance. Mayor Aaron Brockett said he had no suggestions for additional focus areas and that it feels like “we are on the right track with this work.”
According to Muscadin, the work group has a strong working draft of the revised ordinance. There will be a follow-up community event in August or September to gather feedback. The second reading and presentation of the new ordinance are slated to come before council in October.
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