Update: This story was updated at 10 a.m. on Jan. 13, with the names of the candidates who are seeking a spot on the panel.
The Boulder City Council next week will decide whether to approve a list of community members to serve on the city’s Police Oversight Panel, a volunteer-led group that reviews internal investigations into police misconduct.
The vote is likely to stoke tensions over divisive issues of public safety, crime and police accountability.
The panel has been in the spotlight in recent months after several members raised concerns about transparency and limits to their ability to discipline officers. It was created in November 2020, spurred by an incident in which a Boulder officer drew his gun on a Black Naropa University student. Body camera footage sparked calls for police accountability.
Councilmembers on Dec. 15, 2022, punted a vote on selecting the new panel members after several community members said one of the candidates was biased against police. New members are picked by a selection committee that includes representatives from two nonprofit organizations, NAACP Boulder County and El Centro Amistad. City Council has final say.
Instead of approving the new members, as many expected, councilmembers asked the selection committee to confirm that it followed city code. The 2020 ordinance that created the panel states its members should demonstrate “an absence of any real or perceived bias, prejudice or conflict of interest.”
During a Police Oversight Panel meeting on Jan. 12, the city said the selection committee confirmed it followed city law and reiterated its support of all six candidates.
One of the candidates withdrew their candidacy, Aimee Kane, the city’s equity program manager, told the panel. She said the selection committee is searching for a replacement before the city council is scheduled to vote on a new slate of panelists on Jan. 19.
The initial six candidates were Danielle Aguilar, Maria Soledad-Diaz, Madelyn Strong Woodley, Sam Zhang, Lisa Sweeney-Miran and Talithia Cason. Kane said Cason withdrew. One of the four alternates, which are in place to fill any future vacancies, will likely take her spot.
The candidate who has drawn the most scrutiny from some community members, Lisa Sweeney-Miran, is still seeking a post on the panel, she told Boulder Reporting Lab on Thursday. Sweeney-Miran is the executive director of Mother House, a homeless shelter. Some of her critics, including members of the public safety advocacy group Safer Boulder, have been outspoken in their desire for city officers to clear out encampments of homeless people.
Sweeney-Miran is a plaintiff in a May 2022 lawsuit against the City of Boulder seeking to overturn the city’s camping ban, which makes it illegal for homeless people to sleep outside in public spaces. The lawsuit names Police Chief Maris Herold as a defendant.
Sweeney-Miran has said she would withdraw her name from the lawsuit if she is appointed to the Police Oversight Panel.
Pressure is now on city councilmembers to seat the new panel members. In February 2023, two of the panel’s members are finishing their terms: co-chair Ariel Amaru, a recent graduate of the University of Colorado Law School, and Taishya Adams, a commissioner to Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
The panel was created with overwhelming support. But during its first few years, it has struggled with high turnover and a demanding workload. As a result, councilmembers last year voted to increase its size from nine to 11 members.
Panel members in recent months have raised concerns about restrictions on what they can say publicly about cases of alleged officer misconduct and how much input they have in officer discipline. City officials issued panel members legal guidance limiting what they can say publicly after panel members reviewed a case involving a “systemic failure” in the city police department’s detective section.
The panel’s next meeting is on Wednesday, February 8. The panel members will also be selecting their new co-chairs.
“We are in a very tight turnaround and hoping that city council is going to come through for us and keep this process and this work going,” co-chair Daniel Leonard, a communications specialist at CU Boulder, told panel members on Thursday.