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New City Council President has more than a few thoughts on the future of Boise Police

Boise Councilwoman Holli Woodings was recently selected by her fellow lawmakers to serve as Council President.
Boise State Public Radio, Holli Woodings
Boise Councilwoman Holli Woodings was recently selected by her fellow lawmakers to serve as Council President.

Just a year ago, Ryan Lee was the Chief of the Boise Police Department; and not too many citizens knew of then-Captain Matt Bryngelson. Fast forward to 2023, andLee has since resigned in the shadow of one controversy, and two months later racist remarks linked to Bryngelson further rocked the department.

“It was shocking. Abhorrent,” said Holli Woodings, recently selected to be the city’s new Council President after Elaine Clegg departed to be CEO of Valley Regional Transit.

“We need to get to the bottom of it and see if these thoughts and beliefs that this former police captain had any lasting impact on our citizens and on his service to the city.”

Morning Edition host George Prentice is presenting a series of conversations regarding the long and wide shadow over the police department, with the city’s Interim Chief and a Boise State criminology professor. The dialogue with Council President Woodings.

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It's Morning Edition. Good morning. I'm George Prentice. It's a pretty good bet that one of the biggest news stories of 2023 will be the results of an independent investigation that began in 2022 - A probe to see if the words and possible actions of a former police captain infected the Boise Police Department. And to talk a bit about that this morning, here is Boise Council President Holli Woodings. Councilwoman Woodings, good morning and Happy New Year to you.

HOLLI WOODINGS: Happy New Year to you. Thank you for having me, George.

PRENTICE: My question to you is a question that I have heard time and again in different circles… and I'm guessing you've heard this, too.. and that is how is it possible that a high-profile officer and ultimately a captain in the police department buttress and give voice to the definition of racist propaganda, and yet somehow this was completely under the radar?

WOODINGS: I think I was as shocked as everyone else when the citizen researcher on Twitter brought this whole thing to light. It was shocking. Abhorrent. It's exactly as you said. We need to get to the bottom of it and see if these thoughts and beliefs that this former police captain had any lasting impact on our citizens and on his service to the city.

PRENTICE: Are you confident that we will get to the bottom of this?

WOODINGS: I sure hope so. That's our goal. And that's why the mayor was so careful in her selection of our investigative firm. We wanted somebody she wanted somebody who had a lot of experience who really could be trusted to get to the bottom of this and provide any follow up actions that the city will need to take, if any, are necessary.

PRENTICE: Michael Bromwich - I don't think anyone can dispute his credentials as well as Steptoe and Johnson. That said, $500,000 for that investigation is indeed real money. I know that the mayor wanted to get the investigation going as soon as possible, but was there not a plan B? No other option to possibly put this project out to bid?

WOODINGS: There are avenues by which we can do that. But really, this contract, in the scope of the contracts that the city has - is not a large contract. We have contracts that are multi millions of dollars that we execute all the time. And so, with the specialization of what we were needing from this investigation and the qualifications that this investigator and his firm bring to the project, the city council did not require a competitive bid process in this situation.

PRENTICE: Let's talk about the bigger picture on this - and that is trust - the trust that may have been damaged - our trust in those that we need to trust the most: the people who protect us. And then for the men and women - the rank-and-file - their trust that the investigation will be conducted fairly. And all of a sudden, our default position is not trust, but skepticism. And that can be, quite frankly, cancerous.

WOODINGS: You're right. It can be. And so that's why we wanted to keep the scope of this investigation incredibly narrow. This is not a witch hunt into Boise police department. This is really ensuring that any actions that were taken by this captain were fair to our residents. And if not, that that we're able to deal with that. And then if anything else is discovered over the course of this that requires follow up, we will be made aware of that. But, you know, George, I think the important thing to remember is that the rank-and-file officers who are out there every day really care about our residents and they really take their role as public servants seriously. And we can't lose trust in that. I mean, they really are incredible people. You know, I think that the words of this one officer… while they're terrible, they are not representative of a systemic issue within the Boise Police Department.

PRENTICE: So, to that end, do you see daylight at the end of this as far as greater confidence and an ability to attract and hire and keep good police officers in the future?

WOODINGS: I really do. And police departments all over the country are really grappling with a lot of these same issues. Boise Police Department is unique in that our officers, I think, just have a different approach to policing overall. What we're really looking forward to is having this investigation complete understanding how we go forward with accountability of our police officers and then looking forward to hiring a permanent police chief to replace our wonderful public servant, Interim Police Chief, Chief Winegar. And just really getting to the root of this, so that we can have a solid plan going forward that creates a police department that really responds to our community needs and that reflects the values of Boise.

PRENTICE: I'm not sure if you can answer this, but I have to ask. Will this investigation include an interview with former Police Chief Ryan Lee?

WOODINGS: I'm not sure. I think that's a really great question. We're not part of the investigation process with the exception of being interviewed by the investigators. And so that would definitely be a question for the investigators themselves.

PRENTICE: Does Michael Bromwich and his team at Steptoe and Johnson touch base with you and council? Or do you only expect to hear from them if something extraordinary crops up that requires immediate attention?

WOODINGS: I think that we will have some touch-base moments throughout the investigation. But if there is anything that really requires immediate attention, of course that will be brought up right away.

PRENTICE: Change is inevitable. 2023 will probably see as much change as any year in recent memory. And right there will be Boise Council President Holli Woodings, and we look forward to many conversations. Councilwoman Woodings, thank you so very much for giving us some time this morning and best of luck this year.

WOODINGS: Thank you so much, George. It's always a pleasure to chat with you.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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