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Boise's police accountability chief has more to say about complaint backlog, protecting human rights

Nicole McKay is the new director of the Boise Office of Police Accountability.
Nicole McKay is the new director of the Boise Office of Police Accountability.

When Nicole McKay took the job as director of the City of Boise’s Office of Police Accountability, she soon discovered that there was correspondence dating back to a year ago.

“It’s concerning to me that, No.1, there is this volume,” said McKay. “That said, it is the highest priority for my new case administrator – she and myself.”

McKay visited with Morning Edition host George Prentice to talk about that backlog, a need for more internal training, and the essential nature of the OPA.

Read the full transcript below:

City of Boise

GEORGE PRENTICE: It's Morning Edition. Good morning, I'm George Prentice. Nicole McKay is here. She is the City of Boise's new Police Accountability Director. For a number of years, she has worked in the state Attorney General's office under different AG’s. She's been on the job at Boise City Hall… not even two months yet… but she's going to give us some time this morning. Nicole McKay. Good morning to you.

NICOLE MCKAY: Good morning, George, and thank you for having me. It's a pleasure to be here.

PRENTICE:  In your first presentation to Boise City Council last week, you did make reference to what looks like a backlog of citizen questions, complaints, or concerns. And even to a layperson… what I heard… it was concerning in that it appeared as if when you first looked at this… discovered this… you weren't exactly sure what you had. The word you used was “voluminous.” Can you just paint me a word picture of what we're talking about?

MCKAY: Happy to. One of the first things I learned in this position was how the information comes to the office of the OPA. And what I learned is complaints can be filed online through the website. Voicemails can come in through the OPA dedicated line, or things can come in through the mail. And there was correspondence to this office in the inbox, which is where everything lands, dating back to September of 2022. I want to be sure to clarify that it is possible that some of these inquiries or complaints that have been filed have been dealt with, but it is difficult for me to tell, given the fact that I wasn't the person entering those or dealing with those. So, it is going to require my office to go through each of those complaints or inquiries and determine, did they meet the criteria for a complaint to be investigated? If so, were they entered into our system? Were they forwarded to the Office of Internal Affairs for investigation? When was that investigation reviewed by this office, and was there any resolution that was communicated to the constituent? So, for every one of those entries to our office, we're having to go through and make sure that everything was appropriately handled and entered into our system.

PRENTICE: Can I assume that there is some sense of urgency to this?

MCKAY: It's concerning to me that, No. 1, there is this volume. And my hope is that what I learn is that most of these have already been dealt with, but there has been transition in this office. And so, I can certainly appreciate how difficult it is to maintain an office with this kind of transition. But that said, it is the highest priority for my new case administrator … she and myself … as many cases as we can a day and if necessary, after we've really started to appreciate the backlog and how much work it's going to take, I will certainly engage the mayor and city council about hiring a temporary person if need be.

PRENTICE: Another of your comments from last week was, ”In my short time I've been here assessing some of the complaints backlogged. What I see consistently so far is really a lack of professionalism.” Can you put a finer point on that? Are we talking about poor communication? Inconsideration a lack of respect?

MCKAY: George, I would say that I've seen some of all of that. When individuals come to this office, it's because they are in-need and they are having a difficult time. And we all know that sometimes government can be difficult to navigate. It's hard to know where to go to really have those concerns addressed. And so we're meeting people when they're most often in a difficult part of their life. So what I am really focusing on for this office, and the conversations I'm having with leadership at BPD is the importance of professionalism. Um, when we interact with the public and the complaints that I have seen have shown that our customer service could be better, both from the OPA office and from BPD. I also see inquiries about praising BPD officers for the things that they've done well, and I've reviewed enough video to see that we have a lot of officers doing things exceptionally well, so I want to make sure that this doesn't come across as me saying we have a deep and wide problem, because I don't know that to be the case. What I do know is there's a significant number of things that I see that are going well, but what I do see is probably still too many interactions between the public and police officers and perhaps some supervisors and communications from this office where the customer service could just be better. Can we meet people where they are? Can we treat people with respect and compassion, and can we help people get to where they need to be?

PRENTICE: Can we talk a bit about the need for this office? Most of us know the history of this office and the different iterations from Pierce Murphy being the Ombudsman, the Natalie Mendoza. There were some folks at City Hall some time ago that thought this should be part time. There was even some argument that said, oh, well, we're not getting many complaints, so we really don't need a full-time office. But that's a little bit like saying you don't need flood insurance because it's not raining.

MCKAY: Absolutely. And George, thank you for that question. It is so important. I think there are certain individuals who view this office quite narrowly, and that is because they don't really appreciate what this office does. So, if you were to look at this as only necessary when we have a high number of critical incidents, then I can understand why you wouldn't think it was necessary. But this office is much, much more than that. This office is a connector between the community and our police department and the mayor's office and city council, and we are here to assist people in helping them navigate the system, to get some resolve to their issues. And like I mentioned before, these are people who are struggling in a difficult aspect of their life. And this role, if it's effective, is engaging the community in what's happening. What do they need? What are they seeing? Do they need help finding resources? How can we better learn from the community how to train and educate our officers and how to interact with them? We have a growing city. We have a changing city. We can certainly see cities throughout the West Coast that are struggling with issues in their downtown areas particularly. So how can we engage these portions of the community to make sure that our policing is not only effective, but that it's professional, it's courteous, it promotes constitutional policing, it protects human rights. That's what this office is all about. And if we can do that transparently, George, all the better, which I think we can.

PRENTICE: Um, let's remind our listeners that today, tomorrow and every day. What is the best way to communicate with your office? What is the best way for someone to say, “Hey, I'm concerned about something.”

MCKAY: I'm glad you asked because I don't think people really appreciate where we are and what we do. And there are a number of ways that you can get in touch with the OPA. Number one, you can give us a call. We have a dedicated line. We have a website that there is a link for a form to fill out if you have a concern. And also you could reach out to the mayor or city council through their public portal and they will get a message to me. And lastly, you can reach out to the Office of Internal Affairs for the Boise Police Department, and you can file a complaint with them as well.

PRENTICE: In regards to that backlog… or what could be a backlog… are we talking about dozens, scores, hundreds of events?

MCKAY: That's a difficult question for me to answer, George. And let me explain why. Okay. It is not uncommon for an individual to submit a form online and then perhaps make three phone calls or an individual to submit multiple forms, or to write a letter, submit a form and make a phone call. So part of what we are doing is trying to categorize these communications into incidents. So we do have some individuals who regularly contact this office. And sometimes these individuals may be dysregulated. And what we really need is for a welfare check. Or we need our behavioral health team to weigh in. And maybe it's somebody who's known to this office, maybe not. So we have options available, but it's difficult for me to say how many because there may be multiple entries per incident.

PRENTICE: She is Nicole McKay, the City of Boise's new Police Accountability Director. Great good luck to you and your team. And thanks for giving us some time this morning.

MCKAY: It's been a pleasure, George. Thank you.

Find reporter George Prentice on X @georgepren

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