By Shari Phiel
Most communities looking at creating a police oversight committee, citizen review board or any other similar police review body are usually 10 times the size of Berthoud. However, that’s not to suggest that a police review board wouldn’t be appropriate or beneficial to the Town. In fact, forming just such a review body has already been suggested by some of Berthoud’s citizens over the years.
Berthoud’s small town nature often means residents and Town officials can discuss any issues directly with Berthoud Police Chief Glenn Johnson. Residents new to Town or less familiar with policies and codes may be more comfortable bringing those issues before a review board. Over the years, there have also been a few occasions where individuals brought their concerns or issues to the police or Town officials but were not satisfied with the outcome.
“The only way you’re ever going to adjudicate something of this nature would be with a full police commission,” said Town Mayor Tom Patterson.
How exactly does a police oversight committee or review board work? There are numerous models currently being used in large, medium and some small towns across the county. How those boards, commissions or committees are structured varies greatly depending on the size of the community, the governmental structure of the town or city and also depends on what authority is intended to be conferred to the commission or board.
Civilian-led review boards typically investigate citizen complaints once an internal investigation by the police department has been completed. Once the review board investigation is complete, they often advise or make recommendations to either the Chief of Police or the town officials/agency the board reports, too. It is important to note that review bodies typically do not make policy decisions, decide upon disciplinary actions to be taken against a police officer or staff member, or address specific issues directly but function in an advisory capacity only.
Regardless of how the review process is structured, all commissions, committees and boards share some common responsibilities and goals. These goals typically include: increasing communication between police and the community, identify and respond to police issues, provide input or guidance on police policies and procedures, facilitate communication between police, town staff and community members and advise or council town government on police issues.
In Berthoud, the ultimate responsibility for creating a review board would fall to the Board of Trustees. An example of a similarly formed committee is the Berthoud Economic Resource Team. Like BERT, public meetings could be held to encourage interested residents to participate. From those meetings, a specific number of committee members would be elected to serve for one term. The elected members would then make recommendations to the Board of Trustees. The board could also choose to create a sub-committee of existing trustees instead.
Rather than only meeting in response to citizen issues when brought before the committee, Patterson believes the review board would be more effective if it met regularly. “If it’s only reactionary, it’s not well received, certainly not by the police department.”
Some might be surprised to know that one person who supports the idea of a police review board is Chief Johnson. “To me, it would be nice to have a police oversight committee. One of the things we get here are complaints that it doesn’t matter how I handle them, the people still aren’t happy.”
Unfortunately, with all of his other duties, Chief Johnson does not have the time to put together a proposal to bring to the board. Instead, he would like either an individual or group of citizens to put together information on police review boards that he could then bring before the board.
“That’ll be up to me to look at all the information that’s gathered and put something together for the board,” Johnson added. Hopefully that information would convince the board that such an oversight committee is something the town needs.
Johnson is looking for research and information on what kinds of review boards other towns and communities have in place and how those boards function.
But Johnson cautions people to remember the purpose of the board. “People get involved in these things sometimes get the idea, ‘Oh good, I get to run the police department.” Instead he hopes people will get involved with the idea of making Berthoud and the Berthoud Police Department as good as it can be.