Northglenn wants more time to consider police reform

City Council listens to reform options, can’t agree on path forward

Scott Taylor
staylor@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 8/19/20

Reforming the city’s Police Department is not something Northglenn’s leaders want to rush into, they said during a special meeting Aug. 12. “It’s hard to move forward with something we …

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Northglenn wants more time to consider police reform

City Council listens to reform options, can’t agree on path forward

Posted

Reforming the city’s Police Department is not something Northglenn’s leaders want to rush into, they said during a special meeting Aug. 12.

“It’s hard to move forward with something we don’t understand,” Mayor Meredith Leighty said. “It’s hard to make a decision about a board without understanding all the components within it. I don’t think I heard ‘No, never...’ in the discussion. There was a lot of maybe and ‘Let’s get more information before we move forward.’“

Councilors continued discussing their next steps after reviewing a report on the department released last month. The report, put together by national auditing consultants BerryDunn, suggests creating an oversight group to monitor diversity in the department, review department policies, procedures, hiring and officer retention and to keep watch on professional standards and internal affairs.

With no decision Aug. 12, councilors said they expect the matter to come up again during their September budget discussions.

City Manager Heather Geyer had pushed councilors to stand behind a model for the oversight group — hiring an auditor to monitor police actions, creating a team of investigators to monitor the department, creating a board to review police decisions after the fact or a mix of all three.

“In the conversations we’ve had up to this point, I don’t have clear direction from council on this,” Geyer said. “So that’s something I’m hopeful, that council provides clarity to me on how we want to move forward.”

Police reform

Councilors heard a report on the police department July 22 from Mitch Weinzetl, senior consultant with BerryDunn. Among recommending some sort of police oversight, the report said the department needs to shift the patrol districts and add seven positions.

Councilors called for the report late in December 2019 after the City agreed to a $8.75 million settlement stemming from a 2017 shooting that killed one a man and left a woman injured. The pair were accused of stealing a car.

It was the largest use of force settlement in Colorado’s history.

The city hired consultants BerryDunn to review the department’s operations and write the report in the wake of that settlement. The 391-page document is available in PDF format on www.northglenn.org, the City’s website. A shorter executive summary of the report — containing all of the report’s findings without the supporting data — is posted there, too.

Co-Production

The report notes that Northglenn’s police administration are already backers of community policing, a philosophy that tries to build ties between the police and the people.

A major recommendation of the report, beyond adding new officers and reorganizing police beats, was to go beyond community policing to create a Community Co-Production Policing board. That would be a group of city officials and Northglenn residents that could review department policies and procedures, recruiting and hiring new officers, keeping current staff, and reviewing staff training, professional standards and internal affairs.

At the Aug. 12 meeting, City Attorney Corey Hoffmann presented three methods of overseeing the police — each with benefits, costs and drawbacks .

“While this is the data that was gathered, I’d look at all of these as a menu where you can choose one option, option one, two or three or a hybrid model that picks and chooses from the first three and deciding what works best for Northglenn in a collaborative methodology.,” Hoffman said.

Monitor model

First was hiring a group of monitors or auditors to review police actions and decisions. This would create a professional staff to monitor the police, investigate how they handle complaints and create reports for the community.

“It is typically a department or a group of full-time professionals,” Hoffman said. “Their job is to conduct large-scale investigations and so there are costs associated with that.”

Denver Police uses this model, Hoffman said, relying on six attorneys who act as monitors. Boulder Police use something similar, with one monitor.

“There is almost always a public reporting component, reporting not only on the results of the investigation, but reporting on recommendations for police department policies,” Hoffman said. “It is very much an independent arm, very different from the police department and intended it be wholly independent.”

Hoffman said that manner of police oversight is good for identifying bias, finding gaps in training and acting as a bridge between the police and the community.

“While that is a strength, it can also be a weakness. It’s a bridge as opposed to direct. It’s an intermediary between the police and community. It can be construed as a barrier between the police and the community.”

Investigative model

The second option Hoffmann outlined is the investigative model, a group of full-time, professionally-trained civilians lead investigations of the department, acting as an adjunct to the department’s internal affairs staff and sometimes replacing it entirely.

“It is a group that conducts their own investigations, gather their own evidence and make recommendations and findings independent of the police department,” Hoffmann said.

It would require hiring professional investigators, former public defender investigators or state or federal investigators to submit findings and recommended actions directly to the chief of police.

It’s a model used in Oakland, Ca.

“The impetus, typically, of an investigative model is a loss of confidence in the ability of the police to investigate itself,” Hoffmann said.

Review model

The third option is creating a board to review actions after the fact, including internal affair actions.

“In some cases it can be an entity that hears appeals of determinations of some things within the department,” Hoffmann said.

Depending on how the board is created, the chief of police could take the board’s recommendations as suggestions or the board could override the chief.

Denver uses a review board to review the work of of the independent monitors as well as the police, Hoffmann said.

“In many respects, it is looked at as a mechanism to increase transparency,” Hoffmann said. “More often than not, it is looking at completed investigations as opposed to doing the investigation itself. They are typically made up of volunteers, so this is one of the less expensive models. You are not creating a new department but instead is in the form of a volunteer board.”

Finally, Hoffmann said Northglenn can create a unique program just for Northglenn that chooses elements from the other models.

Councilors listened but could not agree on a single way forward.

“Maybe the first step for us is to create some kind of community involvement board, or whatever we are going to call it,” Councilor Katherine Goff said. “If we can agree that we would like to involve the community in working with the police to address some of these problems, I think it is important to move forward.”

Councilor Becky Brown disagreed.

“I know there is a rush from some to get it going faster,” Brown said. “I think it’s important for us to be clear, concise and not do double work. If we are going to go with a model, we need to sit down and come up with it before we create a board.”

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