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'Small town' feel? Yes, but Police Chief says Boise has to be prepared for ‘big city’ challenges

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City of Boise
Boise Police Chief Ryan Lee

In the early afternoon of June 11, a person wishing to remain anonymous called Coeur d’Alene police to say dozens of men had been loading up into a U-Haul in a hotel parking lot, like “a little army.” Before the day was over, news organizations across the nation detailed the arrests of 31 men, each charged with conspiracy to riot at a Coeur d’Alene Pride rally.

“If we count on random patrols to come across things, we’re going to get very random results,” said Boise Police Chief Ryan Lee. “We absolutely need the community to be engaged stakeholders with us and interested in the safety of the whole community.”

Lee visited with Morning Edition host George Prentice to talk about the importance of tips to police, policing high-profile events and the essential nature of Boise’s School Resource Officer program, one of the oldest in the nation.

“Boise loves its small town feeling and identity, but we’re also a very big city at this point, and we have to be prepared for those challenges.”

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It is Morning Edition on Boise State Public Radio News. Good morning. I'm George Prentice. The recent arrests of 31 men, members of the group Patriot Front, charged with conspiracy to riot in Coeur d'Alene, was indeed cause for concern. And lest anyone forget, it was a tip… a tip from a citizen that led law enforcement to stop those men before any of their plans could be carried out. Boise Police Chief Ryan Lee joins us this morning to talk a bit about tips to police and more. Chief Lee, welcome back to the program.

RYAN LEE: Thank you very much for having me, sir.

PRENTICE: Up top, could you talk about the importance of tips from citizens in your department's work?

LEE: Well, I'll talk about… generally for the police profession…and tips are essential and vital for us to be able to direct what, frankly, our limited resources, regardless of the city you live in, if we count on, for lack of a better description, random patrol to come across things, we're going to get very random results and we want to be focused in our efforts. And part of that is really engaging in partnership with the community and the community being willing to help share information with us. I think it's fairly common for a lot of folks to feel something is off but not necessarily want to tell the police. And what I would say is that we have thousands of interactions a day, just as a regular person in the community have thousands of interactions over the course of a week, a day. Your lifetime, you've met numerous people and often you develop what we used to refer to as intuition that something seems off. But a lot of times there are very articulable facts about what is raising your suspicion, your level of concern. You may not have the professional police training to be able to explain it in the way we would want to in a police report or happy to help get the information from you in a manner that helps support that information. But we absolutely need the community to be engaged stakeholders with us and interested in the safety of the whole community.

PRENTICE: These are troubling times of so called doxing or outing information about private citizens. So, what do you tell a citizen who says they might be afraid of cooperating… or giving information that they think might be traced back to them?

LEE: Well, there's obviously some information that can be provided to us anonymously. We're comfortable taking that. There are occasions where we may need information and the individual to be named for the purposes of, say, a criminal prosecution. And what I would say is that is engaged good members of our community, we have to be willing to step forward. The police department will do everything we can to protect a person's identity as appropriate. And in those situations where a person has to be named because they're a specific witness to a crime, their role description, the accuser in court, which the accused has the right to face. We will do what we can legally do to also protect their identity or at least their personal information in that space.

PRENTICE: One of the first things I thought of in the wake of the Coeur d'Alene event was that, well, here we had a public high profile event being targeted, and goodness knows we have our share of high profile events in Boise. I have to assume you and your teams regularly monitor chatter or social media, but more importantly, look at each event individually to provide the right level of protection.

LEE: Very much so. So much like the fire department may examine the fire safety of a particular event or a structure. We very much look at the known high-profile events and look at whether or not there is a public safety impact or concern to them. And we'll direct resources as appropriate, in some cases, partner if necessary, to contract those resources from the venue itself to make sure that we have police presence as appropriate with the right trained personnel. If there's specific areas of concern. It's unfortunately part of the challenge of the times. We live in Boise. Boise loves its small town feeling and identity, but we're also a very big city at this point, and we have to be prepared for those challenges. The major cities face some of those are ensuring the safety of large gatherings because in the times we live in, some people will take advantage of those opportunities either to just cause mischief and mayhem to further some sort of agenda or even darker, more nefarious things.

PRENTICE: I'd like to talk a bit about school safety, a huge topic of conversation. We've been hearing more of a national conversation about SROs, something Boise knows quite a bit about school resource officers. I know it is a delicate balance. Can you talk about finding that trust level with students and parents so that SROs are a success?

LEE: Absolutely. I want to start by saying that the SRO program here in Boise and it is debated by police historians, it is either the oldest or the second oldest program in existence in the United States. So it has very deep roots in the community. Part of those deep roots help with sort of an acceptance and understanding of that role. But frankly, there is a delicate balance. What we don't want police officers in the schools being are in a role viewed as disciplinarians, things like that, which are strictly the administration side. We want to have those meaningful connection with youth. We want to be able to provide mentorship. We want to be able to see signs that maybe something is amiss, that a youth is entering into crisis, or that there are external threats to the youth from the community at large, maybe challenges at home. And you really get that sense by building that relationship. If you talk to school teacher my mother was a school teacher for years. If you talk to her, she knew when something was off with one of our students, just by the way they came in, they acted the change in behavior. We want to be able to have police officers forming those sorts of connections very much in line with community policing ideals. It's just helping to do community policing in the community of the school. I think part of the challenge we have right now in the conversations, especially post the events in Uvalde, Texas, the conversation is really about having police officers there for the immediate response to a deadly or dangerous threat. And I think that that is too simple of a way to look at it. When we look at the history, unfortunately, of mass violence in schools, they're often committed by the student population themselves in the ability for us to have a relationship, see when something is maybe amiss with a student, help get them to the resources, be that counseling mental health professionals to intervene before a criminal justice, a classic criminal justice response is necessary that's ultimately better for the youth and the community.

PRENTICE: Ryan Lee is the chief of police for the city of Boise Chief. Great good luck to you and your colleagues and thank you for giving us some time this morning.

LEE: Thank you, Mr. Prentice. Take care.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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