Saturday, May 6, 2023
Boulder’s Police Oversight Panel will next week consider halting their work after one of their members was removed from the group for public statements that were critical of police, a move that is already drawing threats of a lawsuit.
On Thursday, Boulder City Council voted 5-2 to remove Lisa Sweeney-Miran from the POP, following an outside investigation triggered by citizen complaints. The report concluded that the selection committee failed to properly investigate Sweeney-Miran’s social media posts criticizing police, which could constitute “real or perceived bias,” in violation of the city ordinance.
Sweeney-Miran’s appointment was opposed by the Boulder police union and police chief Maris Herold. Herold was in attendance at Thursday night’s meeting; she left after the council vote.
On Friday morning, POP co-chairs Hadassa Villabolos and Daniel Leonared informed the panel, city manager, equity manager and interim police monitors of their intent to schedule a vote to suspend operations until the ordinance governing the panel’s work could be fixed.
“This motion will be offered in recognition that, over the last year, this panel of diverse people has lost its confidence in conducting Police Oversight safely, legally, effectively and with the trust of our community,” Leonard and Villabolos wrote. “Significant revisions to the law are required to rectify this issue.”
A copy of the email was shared with Boulder Beat. Panel co-chairs also discussed the upcoming vote during a Friday meeting, as reported by Boulder Reporting Lab.
The vote is an attempt “to avoid the possibility of the panel’s dissolution,” the co-chairs wrote, and maintain “continued representation of marginalized people” if and when work resumes — which will happen only when the POP feels it can conduct oversight “safely and empowered.”
“This motion will be offered to recognize the extremity of this situation and the need for bold action and to fully recognize the panel’s ultimate will to decide how and if we should proceed.”
Leonard declined further comment, referring instead to the email. The vote is scheduled for POP’s next meeting on Wednesday, May 10.
Work on the police oversight ordinance has already begun. City council in February approved changes to allow current and past members to speak more freely about the complaints they investigate.
Further revisions were promised, although what they might be, and when they might be voted on, has not been publicly discussed. Aimee Kane, the city’s equity manager, told Boulder Beat last month that public-facing events were planned for May or June to solicit feedback about possible reforms.
Council’s January vote to affirm new panelists attempted to avoid interrupting POP’s operations. Members reported being overwhelmed by the workload, which involves reviewing allegations of misconduct as well as department policy, and making recommendations for discipline and departmental changes.
In separate letters to city council, past POP members and the city’s own Human Relations Commission bemoaned the impact of the controversy on the work of police oversight.
HRC’s letter detailed “the glacial pace and flawed process by which the City of Boulder has attempted to engage in police accountability and reform,” including the departure of the city’s first independent police monitor, the rejection of three finalists after a public interview process, the resignation of a founding POP member in protest over the discipline of officers found guilty of serious misconduct, and the overall lack of support from the city expressed by former panelists.
“The situation involving Ms. Sweeney-Miran is distracting from the core work of the Panel,” wrote Ariel Amaru, a former panelists whose term ended in February. “I do not want City Council to set a poor precedent – one of overreaching and interfering with the panel’s work because of community complaints.
“I worry that this conflict could spell the end of the Panel.”
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