Our view: Lesson learned, not to be forgotten
The city of Steamboat Springs and its insurance company paid out $569,000 to settle lawsuits involving alleged excessive force by local police.
The city is already moving beyond this expensive lesson under a new chief, but city leaders need to never forget and take steps to ensure it never happens again.
Following a Colorado Open Records Act request by reporter Matt Stensland, the city of Steamboat Springs recently released the details of four settlements that stemmed from alleged excessive force by police officers.
The revelation that the city and its insurance company have paid out $569,000 so far to settle these lawsuits was shocking to us, and it’s our hope that the high cost of this litigation is a serious lesson learned for our local city government.
And, while spending money to clean up messes that should never have happened in the first place is bad business for any city, these recent revelations were troubling for reasons that go beyond mere financial concerns.
Across the nation, police officers have recently been cast in an unfavorable light. And while the excessive force allegations here in Steamboat pale in comparison to incidents that have rocked cities such as Ferguson, Missouri, Baltimore and New York City, they play into the notion that police are the enemy and not to be trusted.
The tragedy here is threefold.
First, the notion is erroneous.
Second, it is propagated by a very few “bad apples” whose actions stain the noble intentions and impede the work of the good officers, who, we firmly believe, comprise the bulk of most police departments, including our own. Indeed, five of the six Steamboat excessive force lawsuits involved a single officer who is no longer with the department.
Third, they turn the relationship between police and resident/visitor, a relationship that should be one of trust and confidence, into one of suspicion and rancor.
Particularly in a small, resort town, similar to Steamboat, residents and visitors are accustomed to police departments defined by their community policing, and in most cases, that’s exactly what we see.
Almost every day, we read a report of a police officer rescuing a dog from a culvert, directing a group of visitors to a local attraction or moderating a dispute between neighbors.
By and large, Steamboat police have a reputation for honorably protecting and serving this community. They work long hours to provide 24/7 police coverage, and their commitment can often go unnoticed until someone finds themselves in an emergency situation.
But even in the face of exemplary police work, officer conduct will always be questioned by some, and incidents similar to the ones for which we are now paying serve as a prop for the mistaken idea that police officers are power-hungry individuals rather than the dedicated public servants most of them actually are.
We commend Police Chief Cory Christensen for the work he’s done so far in reversing this idea. We believe positive steps forward have already begun with new policies and procedures now in place that will help ensure nothing similar to this happens again.
Public trust is on the mend, but the lessons to be learned from the years before the new chief’s arrival should never be forgotten. And most importantly, they should never be repeated.
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Sunday June 20, 2021