Boise Council Begins Conversation On Police Department's Policy, Practices And Tactics

Jun 16, 2020

Credit Lacey Daley / Boise State Public Radio

Echoing a growing national chorus to reconsider law and order in America, the Boise City Council Tuesday will begin what city officials say will be an ongoing conversation about policing in general and the Boise Police Department in particular.

The council's first informational session is expected to hear from police officials on "where they currently are on many of the issues that have beeen widely discussed in the community around policing," according to a council statement.

City Council President Pro Tem Holli Woodings visited with Morning Edition host George Prentice to preview Tuesday's event and talk about the need for independent oversight, the tactic of chokeholds and what the public can expect going forward.

“We wanted to establish a baseline of where is the Boise Police Department. How do we compare to peer cities? What are the policies that we already have in place that many national organizations and local residents are calling on us to implement?”

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It's Morning Edition on a Tuesday, and this is Boise State Public Radio News. Good morning, I'm George Prentice. Later today, the Boise City Council will hold what is being called an informational session on policing, in general, and the Boise Police Department in particular. This morning, we are fortunate to spend some time with Boise City Council President Pro Tem, Holli Woodings. She joins us live via Zoom this morning. Council Woman, Woodings, good morning.

HOLLI WOODINGS: Good morning, George. Thanks for having me.

PRENTICE: We are certainly aware of the external circumstances driving a national call for action, but can you talk to us a bit about some of the conversations that you may have had with the constituents, and conversations that you're having with your colleagues, and what specifically is the foundation of today's session?

WOODINGS: Yeah, absolutely. We've been hearing over the past few weeks from many constituents who are following what's happening on the national scene and in different cities, and have a lot of really valid concerns about the state of policing in our society. And so, what we wanted to do, Council President, Elaine Clegg and I, alongside the mayor, is we wanted to establish kind of a baseline of where is the Boise Police Department. How do we compare to some of our peer cities? What are the policies that we already have in place that many national organizations and local residents are calling on us to implement? This is going to be kind of an establishment of, what is the current state of the Boise Police Department? And then we'll have conversations ongoing about what we do, going forward, to make sure that we have a police department that really reflects our public safety values as a community.

PRENTICE: It wasn't too long ago that the police department suffered from crisis and confidence. Many of us remember a unfortunate string of officer involved shootings, deadly shootings in some cases, in the mid-nineties, and an officer involved shooting of a young man struggling with mental illness. That was about 15 years ago and the city was in desperate need of an independent oversight and indeed, we had an ombudsman who made some pretty specific recommendations that led to significant change, but over the last few years, we've seen the independent ombudsman office shrink. Shouldn't the city have a full time independent police ombudsman's office?

WOODINGS: You bring up some really good points and that we were responding at that time that we had a full time ombudsman to some very serious incidences and over years, the need or the demand for the ombudsman's office had been on decline. And so, I think that, that's why it sort of morphed into more of a part time office. And I think that, do we need a full time ombudsman or is there some other vehicle for oversight that we need in this time, is going to be part of this ongoing conversation.

PRENTICE: Independent oversight, yes?

WOODINGS: Yes, independent oversight. Absolutely. Whether that looks like some kind of citizen commission, whether that's an ombudsman's office, we're not really sure yet, but I think that, that's going to be a big part of the conversation.

PRENTICE: Well, the question that many Americans are asking and almost as many are answering pretty quickly is this: Isn't it time to ban the use of chokeholds?

WOODINGS: When I referenced earlier that there are some national organizations coming forward with some very concrete policy changes, a lot of those lists have eight policies that police departments should immediately implement, and banning chokeholds is one of them. And banning chokeholds is one of the only ones that the Boise Police Department doesn't already have in policy. And so as such, I think that, that's going to be likely a conversation that we'll be having with our incoming Police Chief, Ryan Lee, who will be starting on July 1st. And we really saw this as a great opportunity for everyone, including Chief Lee to really get on the same page about the current state of the police department, so that when he comes in as the chief, we can really look at some of these policies and practices and see what makes sense.

PRENTICE: This is a pretty unique moment in that, Boise we'll have a new chief come July 1st.

WOODINGS: Yeah. We have such a great opportunity to really dial some of this stuff in with Chief Lee coming in.

PRENTICE: Today's conversation is part of the city council's work session and can be viewed online. Can we expect ongoing dialogue and input from the public?

WOODINGS: Yeah, we really anticipate this as the first public conversation about where we are, and this will kind of inform any changes that are made, whether that looks like approaching mental health issues in a different way, approaching homelessness issues in a different way. We have a really great police department currently, and we are one of the cities in the U.S. that really adopts the community policing model, which I think is pretty unique. So we'll be talking about community policing and what that looks like, and how that might be different from what's happening in other cities. And so, this is really intended to be the first piece in an ongoing conversation about safety in Boise.

PRENTICE: And today's workshop session gets underway at three. It's a virtual meeting and can be viewed at cityofboise.org. She is Boise City Council President Pro Tem, Holly Woodings. Stay safe. Thank you so very much.

WOODINGS: Thank you, George, and I'm hoping that folks decide to join us today. We really are going to be looking for citizen engagement on this topic going forward.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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