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McLean to roll out new Office of Police Accountability; BPD chief asks for 100 new officers

The City of Boise is contemplating growing the ranks of the Boise Police Department, in a move it says would help meet the demand of the growing city along with more oversight of the department.

This month, Boise City Council heard two different presentations about the future of policing in the City of Trees. On Tuesday, Police Chief Ryan Lee told the city council the department is in need of an additional 100 officers in the next decade to continue community policing and help the department handle increasingly sophisticated problems.

[Boise Police chief unveils policy changes, asks for public input]

Mayor Lauren McLean will also revamp the Boise Office of Police Oversight with a full-time director and a bigger focus on investigation of misconduct. An ordinance codifying the transformation into an Office of Police Accountability passed Boise City Council on first reading this week and will get a final vote in the coming weeks.

The move comes nearly one year after Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on the neck of George Floyd for 9 minutes and 30 seconds. Floyd died, and a jury found Chauvin guilty of three crimes, including second-degree murder yesterday. The incident brought a brighter spotlight to policing in communities across the nation.

Full-time director returns

On April 13, McLean’s Chief of Staff Courtney Washburn presented the proposal for the reimagined office and city council members gave positive feedback. The office will have a full-time director and be charged with interacting with the community, investigating both resident complaints about Boise Police Department and internal affairs.

It will also have a focus on increasing transparency of what happens when complaints are made and raising the profile of the city’s civilian oversight arm. Washburn said the office will use the results from its investigation to drive long-term changes in the department and try to root out abuses.

“We want to focus on and take a deep dive on the complaints this office gets and the investigations they conduct to see if we have systemic problems or if these are just one time instances,” Washburn said.

After a run of police shootings in the 1990s, the City of Boise established the Office of Community Ombudsmen in 1999 to investigate complaints of misconduct under the leadership of a full-time director. This lasted until 2013 when former Ombudsman Pierce Murphy resigned to take a similar position in Seattle. Mayor Dave Bieter later revived the office in 2015, dubbing it the Office of Police Oversight and named attorney Natalie Camacho Mendoza its part-time director. 

Even with scaled-down staffing, this version 2.0 of police oversight in Boise also included an expanded set of responsibilities. The office was charged with developing police policies and procedures, making recommendations on training and engaging with the community on top of investigating misconduct.

City Council President Elaine Clegg, who has been in office since 2004, said she’s pleased to see the city take action to beef up the oversight of the department after its profile diminished in the community.

“I have watched over the last few years wondering if there’s something we can do with the way we write the ordinance and administer this office to ensure the community knows it’s there and they’re able and willing to understand how to access it and utilize the services it has…,” she said.

More officers could hit the streets

Lee, who was sworn in to lead BPD last summer, said the city needs to act fast if it wants to keep crime low and continue with its focus on community policing.

In response to the rapid population growth, Boise has been slowly adding patrol officers each year with a goal of adding 35 new positions in the coming years. But, Lee said after analyzing the department, he said BPD needs to grow its ranks by 100 in the next decade in order to keep pace with the growing needs for specialty investigations, neighborhood contact officers and training.

He said right now BPD has officers holding multiple positions, like Officer Ed Moreno who serves as the liaison to the latino community and the neighborhood officer for the downtown core. Lee said BPD is also struggling to meet its standards for training because there aren’t enough officers to leave their normal duties to go through training and it results in overtime costs running up.

Lee, a former long-time officer with the Portland Police Bureau, said the city must boost its ranks now to continue being proactive instead of reactive to increased levels of crime that come with population growth.

“I’ve been part of a community that didn’t prepare well for growth and I’ve studied the impact too few officers have on some of the bigger cities in our country,” he said. “My vision for Boise is to have a department that is capable of offering emergency response, quality wraparound services and specialized response.”

It’s unknown how many additional officers will be requested in this year’s budget. Last year, city council and McLean heard testimony from activists arguing the city shouldn’t increase the police budget and instead spend the additional funds on social services. The city budget, with an additional $1 million in police spending, passed 5-2 with City Council President Pro Tem Lisa Sanchez and Jimmy Hallyburton opposing.

Part of the funding approved last summer was planned for an additional behavioral health team, which consists of a clinical social worker and police officer paired together to respond to mental health calls. Lee said the department has identified several officers interested in the assignment, but it has not come online yet because they are still searching for a qualified clinician for the job.

Correction: The Office of Community Ombudsmen dissolved in 2013 after Pierce Murphy’s resignation. This was incorrect in the original version of the story.

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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