If you want to do something frightening, spend an hour talking with Police Chief Maris Herold about the conditions she and her law enforcement team are experiencing: property and violent crime continuing to escalate; there are more drug overdoses in downtown Central Park than in all of Boulder County combined; and, a rash of new, more violent individuals are migrating into town due to Denver’s homeless encampment sweeps.
For those who don’t pore over police report data, proof that things have reached a new troubling threshold are still hard to ignore: It seems each passing day carries news stories of violent crime in our parks and along our creek paths; shopkeepers and visitors report unsettling encounters with individuals who are in clear need of mental health and/or substance abuse treatment; and, our public spaces are too often defiled by the detritus of large homeless encampments.
The situation is stark, and there is good reason to fear it could snowball beyond the capacity of law enforcement to control the situation in a manner that meets the reasonable expectations for public safety of our businesses, residents and visitors.
While it’s easy to despair about the challenges we face, I take a more optimistic view. The drugs we are dealing with and the condition of those who are creating the safety concerns these days certainly are troubling. It will take focused attention on a comprehensive set of strategies to meet today’s public safety challenge. Fortunately, we have a number of parties working collaboratively to address the needs of those who can benefit from our service offerings and to better enforce our laws against those who resist all reasonable support efforts and appeals for reform.
As some on the City Council have expressed, though, we can’t continue taking the same approach to fighting crime that is achieving such unsatisfactory results. So, while the temptation is natural to simply call for more officers on the streets in response to criminal behavior, our police chief and the Boulder Police team are taking a different approach. Literally, as the title of their new strategic plan indicates, they “reimagine policing.”
At its core, the Reimagine Policing Plan is clear in its public safety goal and the associated success metrics. What is different is a new central strategy: Problem-Solving Policing. This approach to policing incorporates a more holistic governance model, working across impacted and supportive municipal departments to solve community crime and disorder problems at their root. Obvious examples include direct engagement with business leaders to better protect their stores and office locations through preventative security measures. A strong focus on the personal connection between law enforcement officers and impacted community members also weaves throughout the problem-solving effort.
Other elements of the Reimagine Policing Plan that demonstrate alignment with city of Boulder values include a goal of recruiting for diversity, such as increasing women in policing academies from 12% to 30% by 2030, implementing alternative responses to low level incidents and adopting technology platforms to address accountability and transparency interests. Finally, consistent with Boulder’s innovative spirit, the plan calls for a new police academy, in partnership with the University of Colorado Police Department, to incorporate research and creative techniques into law enforcement.
While as Boulder Chamber president I can’t claim to know the best approach to fighting crime in our community, I heed the words of Chief Herold when she says:
“It is abundantly clear that policing cannot continue as it is. This is true for police agencies throughout the United States, and it is true for the Boulder Police Department . . . [T]here are certainly times when legal consequences are necessary to protect victims and society. Police must continue to step up — and be well-trained — for these circumstances. However, there is incredible power in prioritizing prevention and problem solving, especially when it is done by partnering with the community.”
On Thursday evening, Chief Herold will present this new Reimagine Policing Plan for approval to the City Council. As someone who understands the concern about crime in Boulder snowballing out of control, yet believes Boulder has the ingenuity and collective will to reverse the negative course, I will be speaking up in favor of this type of innovative approach to preserving public safety. I hope you’ll consider joining me, either through your public testimony or by written remarks to the City Council. Let’s reimagine an even safer community for all our residents, businesses and visitors.
John Tayer is president and CEO of the Boulder Chamber of Commerce. He can be reached at 303-442-1044, ext 110 or firstname.lastname@example.org.