Rob Douglas: Oversight in question |

Rob Douglas: Oversight in question

On Sunday, Steamboat Pilot & Today published “Excessive force, excessive lawsuits.”

At this point, I take no position on the recent allegations raised in writing by several current and former police officers against Police Chief Joel Rae, Deputy Chief Bob DelValle, City Manager Deb Hinsvark and City Attorney Tony Lettunich.

However, I do think that because a bedrock principle in the United States is that the police operate under civilian authority and oversight, Sunday’s article raises public policy issues and questions that are worthy of exploration by the Steamboat Springs City Council, Steamboat Pilot & Today and the residents of our community.

Those issues and questions include:

■ Prior to Sunday’s newspaper account, what did the City Council know about the increase in alleged incidents of excessive force by the police, civil rights violations and officers arresting people for obstruction of a police officer — known as “contempt of cop” in police parlance?

■ What did the council know about the referenced internal affairs investigations?

■ Was there ever a public discussion by city officials at a council meeting that would have put the public on notice that there has been a rise in the number of alleged incidents of the type enumerated in the article so that the public could be informed what steps their elected representatives are taking to provide civilian oversight of the police?

■ Was there ever an executive (secret) session of the council at which these cases and issues were discussed so that the council could act in its’ oversight capacity and provide input and/or direction to the city manager and city attorney?

■ Was the council previously made aware of the specific details contained in the newspaper’s account by the city manager and city attorney or was the newspaper’s report the first time the council learned of some, much, or most of the report?

■ Has the council ever listened to the complete tape recording of the Oct. 21, 2014, police department staff meeting discussed in the article?

■ Has the council ever examined the number and underlying circumstances of police officers dismissed for cause?

■ If the council was aware of these incidents and investigations, why didn’t it hold a public meeting about the issues raised in the newspaper’s report so that the public would be aware of potential problems and be informed what steps the city was taking to investigate and address any potential excessive force issues?

■ Many communities have a council member who is designated as the police commissioner (or a similar title) so that there is an elected representative who keeps closer contact with the police department. Has the council ever discussed instituting that position?

■ Many communities have a Police Civilian Review Commission (or similar title) consisting of civilians who are empowered to act as an immediate oversight body for the police department. Has the council discussed creating such a commission?

These are just a few of the questions and issues raised by the newspaper’s report. But at their core, they all require knowing what, if any, oversight the council has exercised when it comes to the police department.

Given the current allegations against the police department, the city manager and the city attorney, I think the above questions and issues deserve exploration by the council and Steamboat Today so that the residents of Steamboat Springs can better understand what is happening in our community.

Rob Douglas

Steamboat Springs

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