Police critics see opportunities in Northglenn report

Scott Taylor
staylor@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 7/29/20

Where the team behind a report on operations for Northglenn’s Police Department see a need for more officers, a few residents involved in Black Lives Matter efforts in the city see a recipe for …

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Police critics see opportunities in Northglenn report

Posted

Where the team behind a report on operations for Northglenn’s Police Department see a need for more officers, a few residents involved in Black Lives Matter efforts in the city see a recipe for more community involvement and a changes to city policing.

“I see so much opportunity,” said resident Lauren Weatherly, who has been involved in many of the Black Lives Matter rallies and marches in Northglenn. “Just knowing what I know about (Police Chief James) May and knowing the vision that he has for the department and how he does his work, I know that community policing is important to him. I know what community policing is very important to the department.”

The Northglenn Police released a 391 page report on the police department operations on July 17, titled “An Operational Assessment for the Northglenn Police Department“. The report, by national auditing consultants BerryDunn, was presented to City Councilors at a virtual meeting online July 22 and the city has scheduled a second virtual review of the report July 29. A link to that virtual Town Hall meeting is available on www.northglenn.org, the city’s website.

Overall, the report makes the case that Northglenn’s sworn police patrol officers perform a number of tasks besides criminal investigations and require at least seven new sworn patrol officers to handle that workload.

But Weatherly sees a different opportunity.

“When the report talks about the time officers actually have to engage in community policing, it’s very, very small,” Weatherly said. “The assessors make that point over and over again. These people have too much on their plate and they are not able to engage in the vision of community policing in as robust a way.”

Community Policing

Community Policing is a strategy among many departments nationally that tries it bring officers together with community members to build mutual respect, understanding and trust in what police are doing. Some community policing methods call for increased foot and bicycle patrols or community meetings to foster cooperation between residents and officers and help prevent crime before it happens.

“One perspective is to hire more officers, but to me that does not align with what I would like to see for public safety in Northglenn,” she said. “I would like to see opportunities for non-sworn staff to fill out some of these roles.”

Rather than hiring seven new officers, the city could work with other experts to handle some of those calls. Calls involving welfare checks on seniors could be made by people trained to help the elderly. Calls involving mental health issues could be handled by counselors, rather than patrol officers.

“I don’t think the police must be the first line of defense for all those issues,” Weatherly said. “I think there are people better equipped to do that work, like addiction issues or domestic violence. Many of the issues that police have to shoulder the burden of, they’re are not trained to do.”

Northglenn electrician Rudy Cesena is skeptical hiring new officers. Like Weatherly, he’s been following the departments progress.

“Ultimately I believe the best idea is to just scrap the whole department altogether and just start over,” Cesena said. “We are trying to reform and system that has been based on a racist approach from the get-go.” Cesena said. “But at least they are trying to evaluate the system and see how we might be able to serve our community better. We might be able to do prevention to keep our police from having to be called.

Co-Production

The report also suggests creating a citizen’s 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. At the City Council’s July 22 meeting, BerryDunn Senior consultant Mitch Weinzetl called that method Co-Production and said it gives residents a say in how the department is run, and said it’s step beyond community policing.

Cesena said that board needs to be independent of the police department and must have teeth to be anything other than a show.

“The report did point out that most police oversight boards today really don’t have teeth or the ability to do much,” Cesena said. “Ours needs to have the ability that, if something goes wrong, they are able to fight and have a positive effect on the community.”

But Weatherly said it might be a good way to build a good relationship between officers and residents.

“If we create a board that is charged with getting the community invested in this new model, it could serve that prevention perspective without leaving it all sitting on the shoulders of the police,” she said.

Keeping officers

And a citizen oversight group tasked with hiring and retaining Northglenn officers could help the city out in other ways. She noted that Northglenn has reputation as a training ground for new officers, who transfer to larger cities after serving a time in Northglenn.

“It’s been hard to keep the department staffed, and even if you do hire a new officer it takes a year to get them trained,” Weatherly said. “So there some perpetual, systemic problems that are holding our department back. In that sense, there are huge opportunities to re-imagine who we do some of that work.”

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