Colorado Springs City Council hears from protestors, plans civilian oversight hearing

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COLORADO SPRINGS – For ten days protestors marched and yelled slogans on the steps of City Hall demanding changes to the way policing is handled in the community.

On Tuesday, protesters got to bring their voices inside the building during the City Council regular meetings.

“In this capacity, I’ve never had this involvement in this community,” said Deja Alexander, a 20-year-old who is one of several of the protest’s organizers.

The first change many of the protesters have been calling for is a form of civilian oversight of the police department.

“This citizen oversight committee has to be, definitely priority number one,” Derrick Matthews, another organizer, told city council Tuesday. “For the city to say that we are progressive and that we move forward and we’re more open-minded than others, has fallen short multiple times.”

Some form of an oversight committee has been on the minds of leaders in the community since the death of De’Von Bailey and city councilors Wayne Williams and Richard Skorman have looked into this year.

Councilman Williams and other city staff traveled to Austin for a meeting of the National Association of Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement, a non-profit organization that works to improve or establish oversight of police officers. Council President Skorman was slated to go as well but decided not to make the trip because of the COVID–19 pandemic.

“I want the focus and I believe the focus will be, on making actual recommendations that are appropriate, that are likely to get adopted, that will help improve our processes here in Colorado Springs.” Williams said.

Williams first brought up the committee during a council meeting in April and says, he moved up a work session on the group from the end of the month to Thursday evening at 4:15 p.m. The meeting is open for the public to listen the discussion in a remote format whether that be internet or the city’s cable channel. The session will not be open to public comment, which drew the ire of some watching Tuesday’s meeting on Facebook. Skorman promised there would be future meetings to hear the community’s desires for oversight.

“There does need to be more awareness or accountability for them to know we are here and we are watching them and its time for us to, not necessarily not police the police, but to keep the police accountable for what their actions and what they do to the community,” said Chauncy Johnson, one of the organizers.

What the committee or commission will look at is still unclear at this time. Some people commenting to Council Tuesday wanted civilian input on punishments, procedures, and direction.

Others, like many of the organizers, wish for more oversight and say on accountability, a stance much more agreeable to Mayor John Suthers stance, who according to city charter, has the authority on police policy.

“What I as Mayor am not in favor of is a group of unelected citizens without expertise in policing, making decisions about how the police department operates, who gets disciplined and things like that,” Suthers said. “I am all for a commission looking at what other cities’s do, providing input saying ‘city council you ought to consider this, mayor you ought to consider that.”

Suthers says he believes too much civilian oversight lead to a drawn-out process in the punishment for an NYPD officer in the death of Eric Gardner that took five years.

Other people called for reducing police operating budgets, removing military-grade equipment from the department and took issue with the CSPD’s use of tear gas and rubber bullets on protestors and a video showing a group of CSPD officers taking down a man and swinging at him.

The outside of City Hall was the quietest it had been in the last 11 days. Thursday’s 4:15p.m. work session coincides with an event at 4 p.m. organizers put together called “Honoring Lives Taken by CSPD” on Facebook.

Johnson says, they will keep protesting until there is change.

“We’re not going to stop until it happens because we need justice, we need peace, we need to be listened to and heard,” Johnson said.

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