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Boise Police chief unveils policy changes, asks for public input

Boise’s new police chief hit the ground running and proposed several policy changes to roll out in the coming months.

Chief Ryan Lee, who started work July 1, presented to Boise City Council several changes to Boise Police Department policies in the works. These include measures to make police discipline and use of force more transparent, dashboards for the public to see how the police is performing in real time and creating a written policy requiring officers to intervene during inappropriate levels of use of force.

[BPD Chief: Boise needs to add 40 to 50 police officers]

These changes come after a summer of unrest across the country following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis after an officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Amid nationwide calls for local governments to redirect funding from police departments to social services, Boise City Council voted to increase the police budget by roughly $1 million. However, with that vote, several council members signaled support for changes at the department to increase transparency and strengthen the department’s focus on community policing.

Residents can weigh in on the proposed changes.

More transparency, focus on services

Lee laid out several policy changes either already completed or in the works.

  • Developing a set policy for managing crowds, which includes assigning liaison officers to each of the groups participating in the protest.
  • All BPD officers must now take forty hours of crisis intervention training. This training focuses on reducing arrests of those experiencing mental illness and referring them to services instead of the criminal justice system.
  • He also doubled down on rules requiring officers to be apolitical, which is a continuation of the move from Acting Chief Ron Winegar over the summer to prevent officers from displaying the Thin Blue Line symbol outside of City Hall West.
  • The department banned no-knock warrants except in extreme circumstances of a judge and the police chief specifically approve them. The practice gained wider attention after the shooting death of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky.
  • Officers received new implicit bias training developed by professionals nationwide, including staff from Morehouse College’s National Training Institute on Race and Equity and Portland State University’s Gender, Race and Sexual Prejudice Lab.

The department also launched early versions of two public dashboards so residents can learn more about police department operations. This includes an interactive map of police incidents in your neighborhood and another with emergency response times from BPD. The department is currently working on gathering additional information on the race and ethnicity of residents pulled over for traffic stops and use of force.

BPD is working on adding a new two-member behavioral health team to specifically respond to mental health calls. The department currently has one team, which consists of a sworn officer and a civilian. City Council President Elaine Clegg suggested the city house the team outside of the department or staff it with civilians.

“I think there would be some benefit to doing it that way in terms of trust within the community, but also in terms of communication with the other service providers so we can ensure folks are getting the best opportunity to receive services,” she said.

New teams and an overall haul to policy manuals

Sex trafficking is on Lee’s radar as well. He is planning to build a strategy for the department to address the problem, including adding resources and officers focused on the issue. Lee is also planning on adding a Services Coordination Team to help connect residents struggling with addiction, homelessness or other issues to services to help them instead of law enforcement.

Lee is also in the process of revising the entire department’s policy manual and use of force policy, including permanently banning the use of the Vascular Neck Restraint unless there is deadly force. He said the changes are necessary to add clarity and be more comprehensive. He also is working on making the discipline system more transparent to the public.

“We want the policy to be in a single place and easily understandable for our members, but for the public as well,” he said.

He is also working on standardizing Boise Police Department’s policy for car chases in conjunction with other departments in Ada County. City Council will also get an analysis of the School Resource Officer program. Boise City Council voted to renew contracts for officers in Boise and West Ada Schools last month, but several council members said they wanted to study the issue further.

City Council Member Lisa Sánchez, who voted against the contracts, thanked Lee for looking into the issue and consulting with the school districts about what they want. She also suggested kids themselves play a role in the decision.

“We tend to talk about kids and sometimes it would be valuable to hear from them about how they feel about the SROs being in the schools,” Sanchez said.

Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev senior reporter
Margaret Carmel is a BoiseDev reporter focused on the City of Boise, housing, homelessness and growth. Contact her at [email protected] or by phone at (757)705-8066.

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