Putting the Boulder Police on Report
Everything is going according to plan in Boulder.
Not according to the "plan" cited by police chief Tom Koby back in January--back when it seemed like there might actually be an arrest in the murder of JonBenet Ramsey, Boulder's only official homicide of 1996.
And not according to the plan that allowed the early-December death of Lorraine Lawrence--her body found in a construction-site hole, under a lid of plywood--to be filed under natural causes ("exposure"), so as not blemish Boulder's then-perfect record.
And not according to the plan that got 1997's death toll off to a bang: the May shooting of grad student Rudy Jakob-Chien, allegedly killed by his estranged wife while police officers waited downstairs for the victim to collect his belongings.
And not according to the plan that emerged after three days of "rioting" (read: hearty partying) by whiny white kids on the Hill, when Koby said his officers had shown remarkable restraint and would have been justified in killing those students. (That wouldn't have done much for Boulder's homicide rate, but it would have allowed the officers to work off months of pent-up frustration).
No, not according to any of those plans.
The plan Boulder is following--like a self-fulfilling prophecy--is the City of Boulder Police Department's Master Plan, written back in November 1996.
Written before City Manager Tim Honey resigned his post (taking with him a $140,000 consolation prize); before Mayor Leslie Durgin, who tearfully accepted Honey's resignation, said she would not run for office again; before Boulder cops delivered a no-confidence vote in Koby; before the riots on the Hill; before an officer sued the lead detective in the Ramsey murder investigation for taking him off the case because he'd been too chummy with the media; before that lead detective applied for a chief's job in Florida; before a former sheriff's deputy and a now-unemployed photo-shop worker were arrested for selling coroner's pictures of JonBenet Ramsey (the only arrests made in connection with the Ramsey case, unless you count the misdemeanor charges filed against a baseball-bat-swinging friend of the Ramseys); even before the murder of JonBenet Ramsey.
Before Boulder completely lost its already tenuous grip on reality.
Over a month before JonBenet's body was found in the basement of her home, the Boulder City Council considered the BPD's master plan, which was based on a survey of residents, city agencies and Boulder cops themselves. The plan, which reads like a cross between a painfully honest confession and a sociology paper ("Boulder is not immune to the disruption and violence that are occurring within families throughout the United States," it notes), recognized that there were already troubles in paradise.
The snake was in the garden.
When asked to list the greatest strength of the police department, only 3.6 percent of its employees responded with the name of BPD chief Tom Koby.
BPD insiders offered poor morale, lack of accountability and problems with the executive staff (including the chief) as the department's greatest weaknesses. "Furthermore," the plan states, "in identifying BPD weaknesses, the largest number of specific concerns mentioned, such as the absence of leadership and the inability of the organization to make decisions, relate to the Executive Staff."
Police-department problems affected other Boulder agencies, too.
When polled, the district attorney's office cited the BPD's "we/they attitude," noting that "divisiveness w/in BPD is well known to the law enforcement community. It spills over occasionally." (And not so occasionally, if this spring's antics are any indication; the police department has yet to share with the DA's office the results of the Cellmark DNA testing on JonBenet Ramsey.) The DA's office also offered cops' "insufficient reports" as a conflict, created because "officers don't know elements of law; Records doesn't know what we need." The master plan's recommended improvement: "Perhaps explain to staff how essential the info is to case prosecution or proper treatment of victims."
Ah, yes, the victims. Boulder's Department of Social Services also offered some criticism of the cops, specifically: "Officers refuse to charge parents in child abuse" because "officers personalize the cases." That conflict was deemed serious enough that the master plan recommends creating a "county-wide law enforcement group to investigate suspected child-abuse deaths."
One month after the Boulder City Council first read the plan, JonBenet Ramsey was killed. The county-wide group on child-abuse deaths has yet to meet.
The master plan echoes with ironic reminders of the Ramsey case. But when the cops surveyed several hundred Boulder residents for the report, they had no idea that JonBenet would become the ultimate poster child for their town. Back in 1995, when residents were polled, their concerns were simpler: They worried about violence and they worried about youth. Not the sort of youth who were dolled up for beauty pageants, but kids who drank and hung out downtown. Some people didn't feel safe in certain parts of town because of "the presence of youth on the Hill, transients on the Pearl Street Mall," although most felt secure at home.
In the nice neighborhood where the Ramseys lived, for example.
For the past several months, a task force of Boulder residents, businesspeople and city staffers has been studying the master plan, trying to determine how to implement certain elements, deciding whether to push for a November ballot issue that would raise the money needed to fund their proposals. This week they're holding "focus groups" to test assorted strategies. Voters could go either way, one task-force member theorizes. All the publicity over the police department's problems could convince them that there's a need to expand resources; right now, for example, the sheriff's department and the police department are using two different databases that don't mesh, and more money could fix that flaw. Then again, he notes, people might be so pissed off over the shenanigans in their town that they simply say, "I'm not going to pay for anything until these bozos get their act together."
And the circus is still in town.
The task force will meet with the Boulder City Council early in July.
By then, JonBenet Ramsey will have been dead six months.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Westword's biggest stories.