Today I attended the first day of the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office Citizen’s Academy. The class was closer to the 25 maximum than the email list indicated. We were asked to introduce ourselves. I introduced myself as a general contractor, there because I intended to run for Sheriff next year. About half the class was there because they are considering a career in law-enforcement. The other half were hipsters and scientist, some quite old, all sharp and polite. The first group’s questions were framed from the perspective of a prospective officer, e.g. “how do you qualify for that position?” “what’s the gym room like?”. The second was framed from the perspective of a suspect, e.g. “when can you search my bag?” “isn’t that an example of privatized parole?”. My questions were framed to discover the limits of the sheriff’s discretion, and made up about a third of the total asked.
The first speaker was Undersheriff (“vice-sheriff”) Tom Shomaker, who had a solid powerpoint presentation on the structure of Boulder County’s Criminal Justice System. I found it interesting that Nederland and Ward have Marshalls, described as volunteer city sheriffs, and not unionized and contracted city police like Boulder PD. All act with soft boundaries regarding their jurisdiction, made easier by a Colorado law I’ve yet to study. There is a great deal of cooperation between the various law-enforcement bodies. I was not able to elicit any information regarding the role of Federal agents, such as Park Rangers on the ample National Park land to the Northwest.
I was heartened to see a long list of Restorative Justice programs. While this included groups like Rocky Mountain Offender Management Services, which might be described as privatized probation, there is also the work of groups like MADD to arrange “truth and reconciliation” style meetings to heal both offender and victim. In regards to case flow it appears the detectives and DA can and do use restorative justice programs at any point in the process (arrest-charged-trial-sentence-parole).
The second speaker was Sergeant Lori Cox, a sheriff’s office veteran who is coping with her recent acceptance (2 months) of the role as head of Internal Affairs (IA, expect many acronyms). From the stories and charts Boulder Sheriff’s office appears to get about ten complaints per year, most of which are valid and require some response. The decision of how to investigate and respond to a complaint appears to be made by the commanding officer or Sheriff, which makes me question the independence of the IA office. Also investigations and judgements are not made public, unless so ordered by a court or the Sheriff. A recent example given was of a deputy speeding without warning lights, reported by a concerned citizen who was satisfied with a verbal reprimand. However I wonder why a ticket was not issued instead of a secret internal reprimand. At ten complaints per year and a few hundred employees, using the same reprimand everyone else gets appears reasonable.
Overall my objectives regarding the sheriff’s office and the law agencies they oversee remain the same as that as Boulder County Sheriff; to apply the methods of non-violence and love. This means achieving maximal effect for minimal force, and where possible substituting uncomfortable truths for painful punishments. I wish to heal not only the offended but the offender. I have pondered the question of Internal Affairs for some time, and I do not have a complete answer. But I do know it begins with humbly, publicly sharing the truth.