Summit County law enforcement leaders pen open letter to community
KEYSTONE — Summit County’s law enforcement leaders put out an open letter to the community Monday hoping to reassure members of the public that local law enforcement officials are dedicated to building community trust amid nationwide protests and conversations about police brutality and race relations.
The letter was signed by all of the area’s law enforcement leaders, including Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons, Breckenridge Chief Jim Baird, Dillon Chief Mark Heminghous, Frisco Chief Tom Wickman, Silverthorne Chief John Minor, Blue River Chief Ahmet Susic and Colorado State Patrol Capt. Jared Rapp.
“We haven’t lost our fundamental beliefs that we have to earn the community’s trust on every single interaction we have,” Minor said about the letter. “Some people may have lost faith in law enforcement because of the shocking and appalling and indefensible actions that occurred in George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis. … It’s important our community hears from us about what we believe in, how we police our communities and what really matters to us.”
In the letter, the chiefs note that some of the positives to come out of recent events are discussions about policing occurring at all levels of government as well as efforts to identify problems and solutions in communities around the country.
Those conversations are taking place right here in Summit, where protesters gathered in Breckenridge alongside police last week to share their frustrations and experiences, and at the state Legislature, where a new bill targeted at increasing police transparency and integrity recently was introduced.
The letter doesn’t dive into specifics of new legislative efforts but instead provides a broader view of local agencies’ philosophies around law enforcement driven by values established almost 200 years ago in Sir Robert Peel’s Principles of Policing that emphasize that law enforcement officers depend on public approval of their actions and behavior to “secure and maintain public respect.”
The letter reads: “Your Summit County law enforcement professionals fundamentally believe that we must police our community from a position of trust and mutual respect. We believe that we must continually earn that trust and respect through each and every interaction. We recognize that trust is built over time but can be lost in an instant.”
Law enforcement leaders went on to say that they all support community members’ rights to peacefully protests on issues locally and elsewhere and that they are dedicated to an “unwavering expectation” that officers and deputies treat every community member with respect through rigorous selection processes and training.
“We care about our values,” Minor said. “There’s an old saying that culture eats policy and practice for lunch every day. So we have to have compassion, respect, integrity, trust and professionalism.”
The letter also reaches out specifically to Summit County’s immigrant community, noting efforts over recent years to reassure members of that community that they will be policed with respect and in a way that recognizes their contributions to the community.
Finally, the letter notes that there are times when local law enforcement might not meet community expectations but that leaders are dedicated to listening to concerns and collaboratively coming to solutions.
“We know these are difficult times and many of you may hesitate to trust our profession,” the letter reads. “However, we want to reassure you that we have not lost sight of what it means to serve our entire community impartially, without favor or malice. We are here for you and remain committed to rebuilding any trust that has been lost.”
As local leaders look to dispel any doubts about their own efforts, state lawmakers are pushing for more transparency and accountability statewide. On Monday night, the Law Enforcement Integrity Act passed through the state Senate with a 32-1 vote and is set to head to the state’s House of Representatives.
If passed, the bill would enact widespread changes to existing law enforcement operations, including requiring officers to wear body cameras, outlawing chokeholds, establishing new data collection processes and opening up individual officers for civil lawsuits, among several other measures.
Last week, the Summit County Sheriff’s Office retweeted a statement from Jefferson County Sheriff Jeff Shrader on the bill, which outlined some initial concerns. But officials have been somewhat hesitant to voice opinions on the measures until some of the dust settles, noting that the language has been changing rapidly since the bill was first introduced.
More clarity on local officials’ stances should emerge as the bill begins to take its final shape. Summit Rep. Julie McCluskie said Tuesday that the bill continues to evolve and that there were significant amendments to the bill Monday night.
“The voices of those marching at the Capitol and from across the nation demand that we address the violent and tragic death of George Floyd and systematic racism inherent in our institutions,” McCluskie said about the ongoing efforts. “I have joined my colleagues in working on a law enforcement integrity bill that will tackle these concerns by creating greater transparency and accountability for the use of force by law enforcement.”
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