COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado — In the weeks and months following the police killing of De'von Bailey last summer, a small group of local leaders began working behind the scenes to try and build stronger relationships between the police and the people of Colorado Springs.
The Law Enforcement Accountability Project (LEAP) is led by Pastor Promise Lee of Relevant Word Church in the Hillside neighborhood. Members include representatives from the Colorado Springs Police Department, City Council, business leaders, local clergy, and representatives from the city's historically black neighborhoods.
A dozen members recently attended the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement (NACOLE) symposium in Austin, Texas to learn civilian oversight boards other American cities have created for their police departments.
That symposium took place in early March and the members were supposed to bring back a report on the trip for early April. However, that report was delayed because of the statewide lockdown over the COVID-19 pandemic.
"What our group has done since the March symposium is we're coming together and we are proposing to council this month in June an exploratory panel on accountability and transparency," explained Deb Walker, executive director for Citizens Project and one of the LEAP members.
The event helped members to understand the city can create a policy that matches the unique needs of our community.
"What we want is a model that will work well in our community that is tailor-made for our community," Walker said.
While this effort has been underway, the head of the city's Human Relations Commission recently announced his desire to work with the city council to create an independent oversight committee to review officer-involved shootings and other confrontations between the public and the police.
"We need to make sure that that little African American boy or that little Hispanic girl when they're walking down the street and see the police, they need to know that they're there to protect them and not be afraid of them," said Rabbi Jay Sherwood, the HRC Board Chair. "At this point in time, they're afraid."
Sherwood announced his goal to create an Independent Ethics Commission to protesters who had gathered at the steps of City Hall on Wednesday.
"A commission like this could be a tool to help bridge that gap, bring the community and the police together," Sherwood said. "That's why I would hope the police would support it, I would hope that the protesters would support it, and I would hope that the mayor and the city council would support it as well."
Mayor John Suthers said he believes there is political will on City Council to work to improve the relationship between the police department and minority communities.
"One of the things that I think both the council and I are receptive to is some sort of a committee or commission, if you will, that is related to police-community relations," Suthers said.
He went on to say that the communication should go both ways, with the police hearing concerns from the public and also have the public hear from the police.
"I don't the vast majority of our citizens have any clue the type of training our officers go through, mandated anti-bias, de-escalation training, and all that kind of stuff," Suthers said.
Walker expects that the LEAP group will make a presentation to the council later this month. Rabbi Sherwood plans to include the ethics commission discussion at the next Human Relations Commission meeting on June 16.