New city council could try to release more information about police investigation
Steamboat Springs — A new city council majority in Steamboat Springs could soon try to release more information about the internal police investigation that led to the departures of the city’s police chief, deputy police chief and city manager.
During their campaigns, the four community members who won seats on the council vowed to find a way to bring some closure to the matter after the city denied the public access to several reports that detailed the findings of the investigation.
Some council members said in July they couldn’t oversee and judge any policy or process improvements at the police department if they didn’t have a better understanding of what an investigator found when she started looking into serious accusations against the city’s top two cops.
Councilman Scott Ford said Monday he wants to work with the new council members to bring closure to the investigation and also establish council’s oversight role of the police department going forward.
He will ask his fellow council members on Tuesday to add the police investigation to an upcoming agenda.
“I hesitated to bring this up at our first meeting, but it really is an elephant in the room we need to talk about,” Ford said.
“Well over $100,000 in taxpayer dollars were spent (on the investigation),” Ford continued. “I do not know what the right direction on this is, but I do know doing nothing is not going to be acceptable to this city council and the citizenry.”
None of the 11 community members who ran for a seat on the council this fall were satisifed with the amount of information the city has released so far about the investigation that former city manager Deb Hinsvark said uncovered a “paramilitary” culture at the police department.
While the city has released a vague community summary of the investigation, it is withholding three reports from the public that detail what the investigator found out about the management styles of former Police Chief Joel Rae, former Deputy Chief Bob DelValle, and a third unnamed officer who is still employed by the department.
When the former council was interviewing interim City Manager Gary Suiter for the job in September, councilman Kenny Reisman suggested Hinsvark’s inability to “communicate the finality of the investigation” was a big factor in her eventual resignation.
“That’s kind of what got her fired,” Reisman said. “There were many of us who felt she couldn’t communicate that piece of it. That was one of the final straws, and it’s a key piece to moving forward and regaining trust in the police force in our community.”
It isn’t clear yet how the new council will attempt to bring that closure, or what legal avenues they will have to do so.
But the council members who will be sworn in on Tuesday offered some ideas on the campaign trail.
Incoming councilwoman Kathi Meyer said, at a minimum, some form of an executive summary addressing the allegations against the police department’s leaders needed to be produced.
“Since the community spent over $100,000, there is an expectation of feedback or conclusions regarding this matter,” Meyer said last month when asked if the city had released enough information to the public.
Incoming councilwoman Heather Sloop suggested a retired judge could review the reports that the city hasn’t released and give a general briefing to the public so the community “can be assured that history won’t repeat itself.”
Asked what the council’s role is in the wake of the investigation, incoming councilwoman Robin Crossan said the council should direct staff to “do what is legally right even if it is unbecoming to our city.”
“If this means releasing the balance of the report, then release it,” Crossan said. “Only then can council work with our new city manager, new police chief and staff to rebuild and ultimately regain the public’s trust.”
Cory Christensen, the city’s new police chief, starts next week.
Members of a citizens committee that inverviewed Christensen, the assistant police chief in Fort Collins, said they were impressed by some of the solutions he offered to move the department forward.
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