Some Boulder city councilmembers want to amend the terms of the city’s partnership with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which seeks to jointly investigate alleged terrorism activities in Boulder, citing concerns about police accountability.
The pushback highlights the recent tension over crime and justice issues in Boulder, echoing national conversations about how communities are responding to rising crime rates and extremism.
In February, the Boulder City Council voted to allow the Boulder Police Department to enter into the partnership, known as the Joint Terrorism Task Force, under certain conditions.
Police Chief Maris Herold has said the partnership will help the city respond to terrorism threats by white supremacists and other hate groups. Herold has also said it could be used to protect women’s health centers and prevent mass shootings like the 2021 King Soopers tragedy.
Councilmembers requested that the agreement allow only one city police officer to work with the agency, and that the city officer follow local police department policies and procedures — including those regarding discipline for misconduct and requirements to wear body cameras. They also wanted the FBI to report annually to the Boulder City Council on its activities in Boulder.
Herold signed the memorandum of understanding with the FBI on May 16, with all those provisions included, at least to some degree.
There remains disagreement, however, about whether the city’s participating officer on the Joint Task Force will always have to follow local policies. The agreement says if the federal government’s policies conflict with those in Boulder, the city officer will either have to follow those set by the federal government or not participate in the assignment.
Body cameras, for instance, are used to hold officers accountable in the event of excessive use of force or misconduct. By July 1, 2023, Colorado law will require all the state’s police officers to be outfitted with body cameras. The FBI’s policy on body cameras only applies to certain law enforcement operations.
Mayor Aaron Brockett told Boulder Reporting Lab on Tuesday he is waiting to hear back from the FBI about whether it will add more specific language to clarify the issue around local policies.
The city council may seek to block the agreement if the FBI declines to make the changes.
“I think we’re having a collaborative back and forth,” Brockett said. “Council has agreed to the agreement with the amendments. Not without them. Hopefully we’re going to come to a mutually agreeable understanding.”
The agreement with the FBI has stoked pushback from residents in Boulder concerned about civil rights violations. The same Denver-based joint terrorism task force that the city would join was deployed in 2020 to target Black Lives Matter protesters in Denver, and such task forces have faced resistance in other communities. The Boulder City Council had cast a 6-3 vote to approve the agreement.
FBI agreement reflects ongoing tensions
During a town hall at the Boulder Chamber on July 11, 2022, Herold addressed a crowd of residents concerned the agreement with the FBI might be blocked. She encouraged them to get involved on the municipal level. This month’s town hall attracted more people than at previous town halls.
“Follow city council meetings as much as possible. And work with me,” Herold told residents. “We all need to be very involved in decisions that are made from our leaders.”
The city council’s concern with the final agreement reflects an ongoing tension with the police department. Boulder’s crime rate, which is lower than the average in Colorado and in many similarly sized cities and university towns, is the highest it’s been in the last decade, tracking national crime trends. Concerns surrounding the growing crime rate have taken center stage in community conversations about public safety and future funding needs. In March, some councilmembers expressed skepticism regarding the department’s characterization of crime in Boulder, cautioning against “frightening” and “alarming” residents.
As soon as this fall, the city council is expected to vote on a new police department Master Plan that will guide the its policies over the next decade. Until then, the police department has been hosting the monthly town halls to speak with residents and answer their questions.
The most recent town hall was focused on the city’s federal partnerships. It turned notably political, with one candidate for elected office using the platform to lambast councilmembers.
“I’d like to call the city council out,” said Katie Lehr, a co-owner of a construction firm in Boulder who is running as a Republican for House District 49, the seat held by Democrat Judy Amabile. “I don’t have any faith in them to do the right thing. I’ll just put that right there on the record. I think that they are very patronizing.”
Public comment during the meeting was largely characterized by a desire for more awareness surrounding crime in Boulder.
“Do me a favor, call up the Daily Camera and ask them if they will publish something for us. In Cincinnati, every paper…has crime stats,” Herold said.
In recent years, many news organizations, including Gannett, one of the largest publishers of newspapers in the country and owner of the Cincinnati Enquirer, have sunsetted police blotters that document daily police statistics without context, and without following up to report on whether a person was innocent or convicted.
Attendees broke into applause upon one resident’s suggestion that councilmembers tour the Boulder Creek path, where unhoused people often pitch tents. Herold said she has invited councilmembers on a ride along.
“I want everybody to see this. You’re right,” she said. “If you don’t walk and you don’t see, then you cannot understand.”