It’s Friday, Boulder. A great day to be alive.
Lots of headlines around policing this week. Several law enforcement officials met with residents on Wednesday to discuss what they can and cannot do about the number of people who repeatedly cycle in and out of the county jail. Meanwhile, the city has hired its most diverse group of officers, according to the police chief, chipping away at longstanding hiring challenges. And last night, after weeks of delays, the city council voted to approved a new Police Oversight Panel.
Also, Jessica Mordacq covers a local history project headed by the Carnegie Library for Local History. Where most people think of pandemic history as statistics on sickness and death across a whole country, the library on Pine Street knows it’s about people’s stories, oral histories, that are another important piece of preserving the past. The library has been doing this for the Covid pandemic to preserve the stories of Boulderites for generations to come.
“Oral history tells you the feeling, the impact and emotion in a way that can change peoples’ perceptions about a topic,” said Cyns Nelson, Carnegie Library’s oral history project coordinator.
Have a lovely weekend. We’ll see you back here for a chilly Monday.
— Tim, reporter
What to know today
- Cold coming: In the 40s today with cameos from the sun. Over the weekend, however, snow will couple with cold as temps make it down to the negatives by Sunday night.
- Police Oversight Panel seated: The Boulder City Council voted 6-3 to seat a new 11-member Police Oversight Panel, a volunteer-led group that oversees investigations into officer misconduct. The approval followed weeks of delays after some community members, including city police officers, sought to block the appointment of one candidate who has been outspoken in her support for police reform.
- Throughout the drawn-out and highly politicized process, two applicants withdrew their candidacies. The fight in recent weeks prompted several councilmembers to double down on their vows to revise the 2020 ordinance that created the panel – including changes to make the council less involved in future appointments. Read our story.
- New officers for Boulder: Meanwhile, on Wednesday, Police Chief Maris Herold said the city has hired 22 new officers, the culmination of a yearslong recruitment process that faltered in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and national protests over policing.
- “It’s the most diverse group that we’ve ever hired in Boulder,” Herold said during a meeting at the Boulder Chamber of Commerce. “They’re from all over the world. And they have different perspectives on policing.”
- She said the police force is still down nine officers. Late last year, the department was down about 29 officers, in part due to national hiring challenges. That shortfall represented about 15% of the department’s budgeted 190 officers.
- The hiring challenges were cited as one of the reasons why five officers in the city’s detective section failed to investigate dozens of cases of reported crimes, including reports of assault and stalking, and child abuse. Increasing the diversity of the city’s police force is part of the department’s police reform effort, which seeks to “increase cultural competency and decrease police mistreatment of minority communities,” according to the latest draft of a new long-term policing plan. — John Herrick
- Homeless, jailed, homeless: A group of about 60 people gathered at the Boulder Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday to hash out ideas to reduce the number of “high utilizers” in Boulder. The label refers to people who cycle in and out of homelessness, emergency rooms and the county jail.
- Many of the people invited were law enforcement officials or members of the community who have called for a law enforcement response to the post-pandemic crime bump. But several law enforcement officials took the opportunity to remind the group there is only so much they can do.
- “We’re not going to jail our way out of these problems,” said Boulder County District Attorney Michael Dougherty, who prosecutes reports of violent crimes, such as assault.
- Several officials said officers are unable to find the social services people need to address their underlying issues. Colorado ranks last in the nation for its rates of adult mental illness and lack of access to care. The result is more people ending up in jail and not getting the treatment they need.
- As many as 70% of the people inside the county jail have a diagnosed mental illness, Boulder County Sheriff Curtis Johnson said during the meeting. He said about 49 people are waiting to go through the competency restoration process so they can be deemed mentally fit to stand before a judge and have their cases adjudicated. All are still presumed innocent.
- Some people discussed the subject of involuntary commitment, similar to New York City’s response to homelessness. Others called for more enforcement of the city’s camping ban around schools. The ban makes it illegal for homeless people to sleep outside in public spaces.
- The subject of crime and homelessness is notoriously dicey in Boulder, stoking strongly held and sometimes competing emotions over safety, compassion and justice. As such, the facilitator began the session with a “calming and grounding” breath exercise.
- The meeting itself was somewhat controversial, given that the initial invitation went out to a select group of people, most of whom either represented law enforcement or have been outspoken in their support for a law enforcement response to homeless encampments. Two people who attended the event said they had experienced homelessness. — John Herrick
- New state rep coming: This Saturday, the House District 12 Vacancy in Office Committee will meet over Zoom to select a new representative for HD12. Beginning at 1 p.m., the meeting will be held for committee members and candidates. Those interested can watch the meeting on the Boulder County Democratic Party’s YouTube channel.
- The meeting comes after Tracey Bernett, a civil engineer who represented the eastern half of Boulder County, resigned her post as state representative. The resignation came after the Boulder County District Attorney filed criminal charges against her, alleging she faked her home address to run for reelection in a more politically favorable district. She rented a one bedroom in Louisville while still living in Longmont.
- Starbucks on Baseline votes to unionize: On Jan. 24, workers at the Starbucks on 2400 Baseline Road voted 13-2 to form a union, according to the union organizers, Starbucks Workers United of Colorado. The cafe joins a growing number of Starbucks across the nation that have joined to seek higher wages, control over work schedules and better sick leave benefits, among other requests.
- The movement, buoyed by the successful union petition in 2021 at a Starbucks in Buffalo, New York, has since ignited a surge in union organizing at other food and drink establishments across the country, according to a recent analysis by NPR. In December 2021, workers at Spruce Confections, a Boulder bakery, voted to form a union. Following the successful petitions at Starbucks in Colorado, none of the workers have signed working conditions and wage contracts with the coffee shop, according to a story by CPR.
- Outdoor seating permit: Downtown businesses that want to let people sit outside should get their paperwork in order. Feb. 1 marks the opening of application season to join the City of Boulder’s Outdoor Dining Pilot Program. The program comes after city council voted to extend outdoor dining practices that were implemented during the pandemic.
- “The Outdoor Dining Pilot Program has been amazing for us,” said Craig Moelis, owner of Foolish Craig’s Café. “Being able to expand our outdoor seating has not only helped by having more tables, it has created an amazing outdoor presence for us that customers can’t help but notice. People love sitting out there.”
- Deadline near for boards and commissions: If you have free time this weekend, and in the years ahead, applications for a spot on one of the city’s many boards and commissions are open until Monday, Jan. 30, according to the city’s website.
Boulder City Councilmembers approve new Police Oversight Panel. Here’s how they explained their vote.
By John Herrick
January 27, 2023
The twice-delayed vote comes after pushback from community members clamoring for a tougher police response to homelessness and crime.
‘What it was like to survive a pandemic’: Help document Covid in Boulder with the Carnegie Local History Library
By Jessica Mordacq
January 27, 2023
When Covid first began to spread nearly three years ago, local researchers and reporters asked Nicole Docimo, an archivist at Boulder’s Carnegie Library for Local History, for records on the 1918 flu pandemic. Docimo was able to turn up only a handful of newspapers and diary entries written around that time from the library’s archive.
The influenza outbreak killed more than half a million people across the country. But the toll it took on Boulder remains a hole in local history. It was then that Docimo and her colleagues began considering how to document the 2020 pandemic so future generations might better understand how Boulderites experienced the public health crisis.
Join us Tuesday, Jan. 31 at 7:30 p.m. at DJ’s Watering Hole (998 West Dillon Road in Louisville) for a discussion with BRL, KUNC and CU Boulder graduate students, who worked with the editorial teams of both organizations to produce stories focused on Marshall Fire standing home survivors.
🐾 Foot yoga: This Saturday at 2 p.m. at Yoga Pearl “reset your system from the bottom up with a sequence for the care and upkeep of your feet.” The workshop will use a combination of Kaiut, Yin and Myofascial Release, to help your toes and ankles and everything in between feel their best. Tickets are $35.
🤩 Stars and planets at Fiske: On Sunday at 2:30 p.m. the planetarium will introduce you to the night sky, including its stars and the constellations they make. Once you’ve got that under your belt, you’ll check out the planets around those stars. Tickets are $12.
🌺 Hula class: Sunday at 5 p.m. at the Dairy Arts Center, learn the art of the Hawaiian Hula and get educated on Hula culture. Drop in for one class is $20. Four classes is $75.
For more ideas on what to do this week, check out BRL’s Local Events page.
- The fight over Boulder’s Police Oversight Panel emboldens calls for reform. The skirmish over how to select members of the panel is one of many points of confusion over how to interpret the 2020 ordinance.
- Mushrooms to be deployed as a weapon against wildfires in Boulder. Zach Hedstrom of Boulder Mushroom hopes to scale up the use of mycelium, or mushroom roots, to decrease fuel loads in Boulder’s forests while improving the soil of its agricultural lands.
- After Golden West’s decision to close assisted living facility, fears of losing not just a home, but a ‘safety net,’ as residents scatter to find housing. City of Boulder officials said they offered to provide housing vouchers to residents before the closure. It wasn’t enough, according to the CEO of Golden West.