Many people in our community believe that we need to improve communication between law enforcement and the public. It goes without saying that the potential for misunderstanding, conflict and needless tragedy is always present. Taking a proactive stance, El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder and Undersheriff Pete Carey have launched a leadership movement, a community outreach program titled “Community Conversations with the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office.” Lt. Clif Northam, Chief, Bureau of Professional Responsibility, is leading the effort with the assistance of facilitator Chris Cipoletti.
The purpose of the Community Conversations is to create opportunities to engage and connect the people of El Paso County with members of the Sheriff’s Office. The intent is that the dialogues will come from a place of listening to open communication and build understanding. This will develop a deeper level of trust between the community and the Sheriff’s Department.
Objectives leading toward these goals are: 1) Through dialogue, build trust and mutual respect between the community and police, especially the Sheriff’s Office. 2) Understand what challenges the community has with law enforcement. 3) Create a list of community-based priorities to ensure the public good.
4) Inform the community about Sheriff’s Office policies in regard to Use of Force and Sheriff’s Deputy Disciplinary Policies. 5) Transparency in regard to Jail Operations and their impact on the community. 6) Create a timely and effective response by the Sheriff’s Office when complaints are received from the public. 7) Endeavor to proactively alleviate fear and anxiety during traffic stops and other contacts with the Sheriff’s Office, especially by people of color in the community.
In preparation for the Conversation sessions a group of community leaders has been meeting virtually with Northam and Cipoletti. The group can take credit for asking some tough but honest questions. Willie Breazell, Chauncy LaBrie, Regina Lewis, L’Beatrice Solomon, Julissa Soto, myself and leaders from the Sheriff’s Office have collaborated in formulating points for discussion which they will ask community members to consider during the Conversations.
Among these are: 1) How do you view law enforcement? What experiences have you had that cause you to view law enforcement the way you do? Specifically, how do you view the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office and its officers? 2) Can you think of the many ways that law enforcement in general and the Sheriff’s Office in particular help; to keep our community safe? Are there disparities in how the Sheriff’s Office works to keep the community safe? Are some parts of the community better served than others? How can the community and the Sheriff’s Office work together to correct disparities? 3) Do the personnel at the Sheriff’s Office look like the people who live in El Paso County? What do you think about the diversity at the Sheriff’s Office? Do we need better representation of all the racial and ethnic citizen’s groups at the Sheriff’s Office? What can we do to make sure that the Sheriff’s Office is a faithful reflection of the population of El Paso County? Do we have hiring goals at the Sheriff’s Office to ensure needed diversity? 4) Does the Sheriff’s Office keep statistics regarding Use of Force Incidents and Citizen Contacts and Outcomes? What are the procedures for the investigation of Use of Deadly Force incidents?
5) Does the Sheriff’s Office collaborate with U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement in regard to detention of undocumented immigrants? What are the policies involving undocumented immigrants who commit crimes? 6) Finally, how is the Sheriff’s Office responding to Colorado’s Police Integrity, Transparency and Accountability Act (SB 217), passed in 2020 after the George Floyd murder in Minneapolis?
This law ended qualified immunity for police officers, meaning they can be sued for actions taken in the line of duty. Chokeholds are banned, police cannot shoot fleeing felons unless they present a clear danger, and now must wear body cameras. In response, Lt. Northam has conducted training in how to avoid Racial Profiling, Implicit Bias, and Fear and Distrust of Law Enforcement.
Anyone wishing to participate in the Community Conversations is encouraged to email Clif Northam at email@example.com
Joe Barrera, Ph.D., is the former director of the Ethnic Studies Program at UCCS and a longtime community activist. He is a combat veteran of the Vietnam War.