Hinsvark: Investigator found “paramilitary” culture at Steamboat Springs Police Department | SteamboatToday.com

Hinsvark: Investigator found “paramilitary” culture at Steamboat Springs Police Department

Matt Stensland
The Steamboat Springs City Council has scheduled an executive session for Feb. 24 to discuss the job performance of City Manager Deb Hinsvark. A strong majority of the council backed Hinsvark Tuesday night after two council members sought her resignation.
Scott Franz

— During her final hours as Steamboat Springs city manager, Deb Hinsvark, during an interview Tuesday, shared some more details about the investigation into the police department.

Hinsvark described a “paramilitary” culture at the department and leadership that was “totally out of sync with working with millennials.”

When reached Wednesday, former Police Chief Joel Rae said he disagreed, saying his department was no more militaristic than any other he was aware of. Contrary to what Hinsvark said the investigation revealed, Rae said the Steamboat department had been practicing community policing during his entire 19-year-old career. Officers coached youth sports and worked closely with community groups and organizations.

“A philosophy that we’re going to do whatever we can to foster relationships,” Rae said.

It has been more than seven weeks since a records request and Interim Police Chief Jerry DeLong still has not decided whether to release three of the six reports prepared by independent investigator Katherine Nuanes.

Hinsvark said two of the reports are about Rae and former Deputy Chief Bob DelValle. Both men resigned in July, but Hinsvark said they never reviewed the reports prepared by Nuanes.

“These are two honorable men who made an honorable decision, and I think for the betterment of the community,” Hinsvark said.

Hinsvark said the third report is about an officer who is still employed at the police department. She would not disclose the officer’s name or rank. She said the officer was a proponent of a “paramilitary philosophy” who was misguided in management style and behaving the way the officer was told to behave.

“Management styles can change,” Hinsvark said.

As an example of a paramilitary culture, Hinsvark described a lack of communication between the ranks.

“The bottom doesn’t get to report back and that keeps the top I think in the dark about what’s really going on and keeps the bottom from feeling like they have ownership of their positions and jobs,” Hinsvark said.

Rae said leadership needs to exist from the bottom up, and it takes training, which was something that the department struggled with because of being short staffed.

“Just as community policing is about the police building relationships in the community — that you want to work on everyday — it’s the same thing that needs to take place internally,” Rae said.

Public searches for answers

Since initial allegations surfaced in the form of a widely-distributed letter written by former Detective Dave Kleiber, Hinsvark recognized that the community wanted answers. She said people want to know how much of Kleiber’s letter was true and whether there was a hotbed of criminal activity at the department.

“Those were good questions, and they hadn’t really crossed my mind,” Hinsvark said.

She said while there was no criminal activity found related to Rae or DelValle, the community may never know which of Kleiber’s accusations were true.

“Not one of those reports focuses on Kleiber’s letter, and so they’re not going to get their answers if that’s the answers they’re looking for,” Hinsvark said.

Kleiber could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Hinsvark said many of Kleiber’s accusations were formed with second-hand, old information, and once the reports were complete, Hinsvark asked Nuanes why those accusations were not specifically addressed in the report.

“She said Kleiber’s letter was a good starting point, but her issues revolved more around that we had a very well entrenched paramilitary type organization for our police department, when in today’s world with millennials working as patrol officers in communities as large as ours, community policing is a much better, more effective policing mechanism,” Hinsvark said.

In his letter, Kleiber accused DelValle and Rae of creating an environment of rampant sexism and hostility.

Hinsvark described “locker-room” talk at the department.

“Easy talk,” Hinsvark said. “Talk that made women uncomfortable and probably inhibited having more women in the department.”

In his letter, Kleiber described people at the department, including Rae and DelValle, using the term “mumboza” as a derogatory term for women.

Hinsvark said there was a poster in the department’s kitchen area with pictures of women partying. The word “mumboza” was written on the poster.

“It’s like oh my gosh, it really was there,” Hinsvark said.

As for Rae being accused of not reporting a car accident, Hinsvark said Nuanes found evidence that Rae filed a report with the Colorado State Patrol.

Hinsvark called Kleiber’s use of the words like “rampant sexism” inflammatory.

“The investigator did not report in inflammatory terms,” Hinsvark said.

Kleiber also accused Rae of bragging about a party Rae went to in New York, where there were prostitutes.

Hinsvark said Nuanes told her the city does not have a policy that says prostitution cannot be discussed at the office.

As for allegations of for-profit policing, Hinsvark said she found the department issued 1,959 citations in 2008 and 965 citations in 2014.

Reluctance to release reports

Interim Chief DeLong has not indicated whether he will release the reports or parts of the reports, which the city has deemed are criminal justice records. DeLong has to decide whether it is in the “public’s interest” to release the reports.

Hinsvark shared her opinion as to why the reports should not be released.

“While I have absolutely no sway over whether or not that information is ever released, I hope it isn’t, and I don’t think it’s going to provide the answers to the public that people think it will,” Hinsvark said.

Hinsvark said as part of the investigation, city employees who were interviewed signed Garrity advisements.

Nuanes did not reply to a request for the advisements used in the investigation. The advisements generally state that the employees must answer all the questions completely and truthfully.

“And if they don’t answer the questions, they could lose their job,” Hinsvark said.

The advisements also typically state that the employee has a right not to incriminate himself or herself, per the Fifth Amendment.

Employees spoke on the condition that their statements would remain confidential.

“My concern is first and foremost for the individuals who did open themselves up and speak candidly and honestly, and then secondarily for the sanctity of the investigation process so that we do keep it in confidential, so people feel comfortable speaking in the future,” Hinsvark said.

When Hinsvark was asked whether she was concerned that people were promised confidentiality when that confidentiality could be breached, she said, “Yeah, but water under the bridge, right?”

Hinsvark said reports 3, 4 and 5 are about management style.

“While the most important recipients of this report is the community, the community gets the result of the report through better policing, not through reading the report itself, and I feel very strongly that that’s the case,” Hinsvark said.

As a result of recommendations by Nuanes, the police department has outlined 18 policies and other changes being implemented at the department. Rae sees it as a positive outcome of the investigation.

“When it was said and done, I looked at it as a very large and broad audit, and I think that’s a good thing,” Rae said.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247, email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @SBTStensland

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