Our View: More questions than answers
A vague police investigation community summary was released to the public Tuesday
City leaders owe the citizens of Steamboat Springs more information and an action plan for police department improvements
Steamboat City Council President Bart Kounovsky and City Manager Deb Hinsvark both predicted the community would not be satisfied with the police investigation summary that was released to the public Tuesday, and their predictions were correct.
After reading the page-and-a-half document, we were at first mystified and then upset by the lack of information provided in the “report,” and our response mirrors the comments the newspaper has been receiving from the general public in the wake of Wednesday’s news story. After waiting 16 weeks for its release, to say the “report” was a disappointment would be an understatement, and it left us with more questions than answers.
In the “report,” an investigation that allegedly involved 76 interviews and a review of more than 47,000 emails is summarized in a single vague, paragraph (the first page of the “report” summarized the methodology). This is an unacceptable response to a serious investigation involving a department that functions on the premise of public trust.
The allegations leveled against the police department, the police chief and deputy chief involved sexual harassment, for-profit policing, bigotry and excessive force. The public deserves to know which accusations were true, which accusations were false and what actions will be taken going forward to rectify any policy violations or workplace misconduct.
One reason City Attorney Tony Lettunich says the report isn’t being made public is that it contains personnel records that are exempt from the Colorado Open Records Act. However, according to Colorado case law, a report of an internal investigation by a municipality into its employees’ conduct does not satisfy the personnel records exemption under CORA. The Colorado Court of Appeals decided this issue in Daniels versus Commerce City in 1999.
Furthermore, when the city spends $99,000 of the taxpayers’ money on an investigation of its police department, expectations that the public will receive a detailed report on the investigation’s outcome are justified.
The summary “report” should, at a minimum, define the five allegations that were the focus of the investigation — now referred to simply as “Reports 2 – 6” — and whether or not those allegations were proven true or were unfounded.
Without more details and information about the results of the police investigation, citizens will continue to question the department and city leadership.
Who ultimately is responsible for the alleged misconduct? Does responsibility extend to city manager level? What actions are being taken to correct any misconduct, policy violations or work performance issues? All of these questions remain unanswered.
We remain convinced that it will be extremely difficult for the police department and city to move forward without the release of more details. A statement made Tuesday night by Kounovsky that improvements are needed in the police department seems to point to findings that the community deserves to know about.
It’s time that City Council step up and take a stand for openness and transparency and demand a more detailed report of the investigation be released to the public.
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Yampatika, an environmental education nonprofit based in Steamboat Springs, will host its 22nd annual Wild Edible Feast on Thursday evening, May 26, at Aurum Food & Wine.