Off Duty Boulder Police Officers Wore Uniforms and brought firearms to City Council meeting regarding police oversight
Jane Hummer often watches the Boulder City Council meetings on television. What she saw during the Jan. 19 meeting surprised her.
Two off-duty BPD police officers attending the meeting donned their uniforms, weapons included. During the meeting, the council considered a motion to approve selection committee recommendations for members of the Police Oversight Panel.
“I found the scene very disturbing,” Hummer said regarding watching the officers in uniform. “Even through the television, I found it disturbing. And I talked to enough people that were there that felt that it was inappropriately intimidating.”
Hummer filed a complaint with the city of Boulder after seeing the police officers in uniform. Hummer found that the officers wearing uniforms and weapons while off-duty to a city council meeting involving police accountability to be intimidation, Hummer said. The City of Boulder could not give reasons for why the officers were wearing uniforms and weapons. YS reached out to the BPD and did not receive a comment.
“As someone who attended the Jan. 19 meeting, I can share that I saw two officers in uniform,” director of communication and engagement for the City of Boulder Sarah Huntley stated in an email to YS. “I cannot speak for why the officers who wore their uniforms chose to do so, but I can confirm this is the subject of a complaint filed by a community member. This complaint is being investigated by outside counsel. Security is already provided at City Council meetings she clarified. “There was a third officer present in uniform. He was on duty and paid by the city to provide safety at the meeting; this is standard procedure for all council meetings,” Huntley said.
The officer’s action directly contradicts the policies and procedures of the Boulder Police Department. The Unauthorized Endorsements and Advertisements section specifies the following:
“Unless specifically authorized by the Chief of Police, members may not represent the Boulder Police Department or identify themselves as being affiliated with the Boulder Police Department in order to do any of the following:
A. Endorse, support, oppose or contradict any political campaign or initiative.
B. Endorse, support, oppose or contradict any social issue, cause or religion.”
Hummer wants officers to express their full free speech rights and participate in local politics, but is concerned about the message that uniforms and firearms send.
“I want to be clear that I’m not trying to get these specific officers in trouble,” Hummer said. “I want the police chief to speak up and clarify this is not acceptable. If the Police Chief doesn’t say anything, it’s condoning this behavior. And that’s not acceptable. They have the right to participate in politics and in our social discourse, but when you do it in uniform when you do it when identifying yourself as a police officer, you’re implying that the weight of the government is behind your statements.”
This is not the first time Boulder Police have been scrutinized for breaking policy. Within the last several years there have been multiple million dollar settlements to victims of police misconduct and policy breaches, as extensively reported on by Boulder Beat.
One policy breach reached national notoriety when BPD officer Smyly followed Zayd Atkinson around in a threatening manner when Attkinson was picking up trash at Naropa University, where he was a student. The city of Boulder paid Attkinson a $125K settlement.
In response to the Atkinson incident and others, the Boulder Police Oversight Panel was created as a way to review policy violations made by the BPD and give recommendations on what actions the chief should take.
Some believe the panel is not able to fully be the accountable check for police that it isintended to be. Martha Wilson, a former member of the Police Oversight Panel, recently resigned in protest in response to the police chief not acting on the panel’s recommendations for officers committing policy breeches in addition to a lack of fair legal representation for panel members. Early this year the panel faced consternation from pro-police advocacy groups in selecting new candidates with activist backgrounds, which delayed the selection process, as reported by YS.
Off-duty officers wearing uniforms and weapons to the meeting to nominate new candidates to the panel was yet another red flag for those hoping that the panel can lead to police reform in Boulder.