COLORADO SPRINGS — The death of George Floyd sparked a national conversation about police use of force. But before last summer, the Colorado Springs Police Department was already looking to learn more about their own policies, from an outside agency.
Commander Sean Mandel has worked with the department for almost three decades. He said the conversations about the use of force study began near the end of 2019. "There really wasn't one specific incident. Certainly the De'Von Bailey incident was significant to our community, and it did take part in some of the communications and conversations that we're having about this analysis, but that wasn't the driving force behind the analysis. It certainly was one of them," said Commander Mandel, explaining there were many reasons behind deciding to embark on this assessment.
Commander Mandel said the assessment will look at data from 2017 through 2020.
As part of their CALEA accreditation, the Colorado Springs Police Department already conducts their own use of force analysis every year. However, they wanted an outside agency for this in-depth study. "I would think this would be something that future police chiefs would be interested in knowing. I can't think of anything more significant right now in law enforcement than use of force... When you're talking about an in-depth study that we want, you're going to need experts in the field that, that's what they do for a living," said Commander Mandel.
In their own words, the Colorado Springs Police Department detailed their requirements for the scope of work:
- Vendor will conduct a comprehensive analysis of CSPD use of force, to include demographic data.
- Vendor will use scientifically valid methods to determine whether and to what extent CSPD use of force data reflects disparities among various demographic categories.
- Vendor will compare CSPD’s use of force data to similarly situated cities as one benchmark to provide context to the study.
- Vendor will identify possible reasons for any disparities that are found, grounded in extant research.
- Vendor will make recommendations for future data collection and research methodology that could be used by CSPD to help clarify reasons for any disparities in force that are found.
- Vendor will provide scientifically valid recommendations on reducing disparities in police use force, which may include community recommendations and police recommendations.
- Vendor will conduct a presentation in a public forum in Colorado Springs on the findings.
On Monday, the Colorado Springs Police Department announced a partnership with Transparency Matters, LLC. The department provided the following reasons as to why they selected this agency:
- The Transparency Matters proposal met all of the requirements from the Scope of Work (SOW); including the methodology to be followed and a detailed progress timeline
- The Transparency Matters project approach was comprehensive and will provide a deeper and more contextualized understanding of how and why the CSPD’s officers used force
- The Transparency Matters project team is highly qualified and experienced in studying police use of force.
- The Transparency Matters project team demonstrated a proven track record using scientifically valid methods to examine police use of force data
- The Transparency Matters project team provided examples of past performances and services that were consistent and relevant to the services required for the CSPD's use of force analysis
- The Transparency Matters cost proposal was reasonable and competitive as compared to the industry standard
Commander Mandel said this study will examine all of the variables behind every use of force instance, to add context to the data. "It's not only going to benefit the Colorado Springs Police Department, but it will benefit the city of Colorado Springs and it will provide us a road map into the future, and hopefully provide us with answers. And if we need to make changes, provide us with opportunities to make those changes, so that everybody feels safe living and working and visiting our community," said Commander Mandel.
The commander said the Colorado Springs Police Department only ever uses force minimally, and within the scope of their policy. He said the local community has been quite supportive of law enforcement throughout 2020, despite national attention scrutinizing the profession. "The level of trust in law enforcement is at an all time low, in my career, and when you're talking about the function of law enforcement and the function of police, you cannot be successful, you cannot function without the trust of your community... And if we don't have the trust in our community that we're using force appropriately, within the law, within the scope of our policy and procedures, then we have a problem. Even if we are, but the belief is that we're not, then there's a serious problem," said Commander Mandel.
The President of Transparency Matters is retired Lieutenant Colonel Rick Brown, who spent almost three decades with the Pennsylvania State Police. "To give credibility to the work, you have someone with a police background working with someone that has a research background. You bring both of those disciplines together to get a pretty good product," said Brown.
News5 asked if Brown's background in law enforcement was any cause for concern. "I think it would be hard to survive as a police consultant if I just saw it from one side of the story. I'm big on community engagement. I've had to, in my law enforcement career, being an African-American male, I've had my own challenges, so I'm sensitive to these issues," said Brown.
Brown and the team of researchers have had to reshape the way they operate because of COVID-19. However, they can conduct a lot of their work virtually. "Once we get past COVID, and hopefully I get on the ground in Colorado Springs and get to meet some of the community, hopefully we can put those fears to rest," said Brown.
Brown said his business bases everything in science, and that their methodology is sound. "We'll get into the weeds and we will do our best to give Colorado Springs, not only the police department and the city, but the community the information they need so that there's more of a collaboration between the department and the community," explained Brown.
Brown added that the Colorado Springs Police Department is doing this study voluntarily, which shows progressive leadership. He said many times he is called to work because of a federal judge or a lawsuit, but not in this instance.
“We believe there is a lot of benefit in bringing in outside experts to provide a transparent, fair, and thorough analysis. Additionally, we believe that we must engage in sophisticated analyses to get a clear and true understanding of use of force. In order to do that, we need experts in their field who can correctly analyze complicated data. And having outside expertise paves the way for true and impartial analysis for both the department and our community... I'm confident we have chosen some of the country's best experts to do this work, and I am excited to work alongside them through this project.”
The results of the Transparency Matters assessment should be available by the fourth quarter of 2021. However, Chief Vince Niski said the department will release a use of force dataset on their website before the study is finished.
Once the assessment has concluded, there will be a public forum held to discuss the results. Those with the Colorado Springs Police Department said there will be representatives present at the forum to answer any questions.
News5 also sat in on the first meeting of the Law Enforcement Transparency and Accountability Commission on Monday, where the assessment was discussed, along with their plans for the year. The commission also voted to host two town halls that are open to the public. One is planned for January, and one is scheduled for February. The exact dates and times have not yet been decided, but News5 will keep you updated.