CB council ready to dive deeper into racism and policing discussion

Changing uniform color, street murals and self assessments

by Mark Reaman

The Crested Butte Town Council, led by council members Will Dujardin and Mallika Magner, want to be sure the town is aware, involved and on top of the issues being discussed around the country about policing and the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Some initial ideas about raising awareness could include things like painting a Black Lives Matter street mural in town; bringing in speakers to talk about systemic racism in outdoor recreation; advocating for local marketing dollars to be directed toward diversifying visitors; and facilitating conversations between people of color and law enforcement officers. 

The local marshals will immediately begin looking at possibly adding some color to their uniforms to lighten up their all-black uniform presence.

Dujardin encouraged holding a work session in August to discuss “what we can do as a town to be anti-racist and how we can make sure the conversation is happening with our regional partners,” he said, citing organizations like the Tourism and Prosperity Partnership, Crested Butte Mountain Resort, the RE1J School District, local non-profit organizations and Western Colorado University.

“It is important to have Crested Butte join the current national conversation,” said Magner. “How do we support racial justice in our community? Why is the community so white? We should have a community and council conversation to be part of the solution to what the nation is experiencing with systemic racism. How can we help make change? What can town government do?”

Community policing review

The first tangible action was a report on “Community Centered Policing,” presented by Crested Butte chief marshal Mike Reily at the August 4 Town Council meeting. In a memo to the council, he detailed ways he felt the marshal’s department was handling the situation. 

“Our relatively homogenous community may not have the racial diversity of other communities but that does not mean we are immune to issues regarding racial injustice or biased enforcement of the law,” he wrote. “However, your marshal’s office takes great pride in making sure we provide a community caretaking model of service in everything we do and our policies, procedures and training support the goal of community trust.”

Reily noted in the memo that department policy calls for, among other things, recognition that all persons should be treated with dignity and respect; rejection of discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion, color, nationality, immigrant status, sexual orientation, gender, disability or familial status; and endorsement of the values inherent in community policing, which includes positive engagement between community and police.

“The report is a good conversation starter,” said Dujardin. “I want to make sure Crested Butte officers are having this conversation among themselves. I don’t want to play into the bias that we are always doing a really good job already. I want us all to be aware.”

“We’re not resting on our laurels,” assured Riley. “We are constantly training and interacting within the law enforcement infrastructure. We are transferring knowledge with each other and learning from it constantly. We are very aware of the state and national incidents. It gets talked about by officers at regular briefings. We interact with the public as humans.”

Crested Butte  mayor Jim Schmidt told Reily that the move to an all-black uniform bothered him. “It seems too militaristic to me,” he said. 

“Like Jim, I have had lots of citizen input that the marshal’s department appears militarized in our cozy, little liberal town,” added Magner.

“For our officers, the person inside the uniform is who we hire specifically for the town of Crested Butte,” said Reily. “They’re awesome. As for the uniforms, it is important that, no matter where people are from, police officers can be identified. We don’t want them not complying because they’re not aware we’re police officers.”

Reily also explained that the new uniform makeup allows officers to spread the necessary 20 to 25 pounds of equipment around various sections of the uniforms instead of just being attached to a belt, for example. He said the color choices are basically dark blue, green or black.

Reily said the simplest solution might be to go with a different color shirt.

Town manager Dara MacDonald said town could certainly look at moving away from an all-black uniform and start with the shirt under the body armor.

“And pants,” said Magner.

“We can look into the options,” said Reily.

Magner said she was surprised she didn’t know all the officers in the department and asked how many lived in town.

“Zero,” replied Reily. “There are four living in the upper valley and four in Gunnison.”

Dujardin mentioned the “buzz kill” that can accompany a late-night walkthrough of Crested Butte’s bars.

Reily suggested that any of the council members could take a “ride-along” on any shift with any officer and also attend trainings to get a better feel for what is involved with local policing and how officers handle it.

“We do a lot of patrols both during the day and at night, so we interact with a lot of people,” Reily said. 

MacDonald said accompanying officers on their rounds would give council a better perspective on policing in Crested Butte. “It is a remarkable balance that we charge [officers] with,” she said.

Town attorney John Sullivan told the council that in his dealings with the department and courts, he has “never seen anything to give me pause.”

“In keeping with Sir Robert Peel’s ideals, the community are the police and the Crested Butte Marshal’s Office is the community,” concluded Reily.

Bigger picture

As for the town engaging more in the Black Lives Matter movement, a discussion of ideas will take place at a work session on August 17. Dujardin presented the council with a memo making the case to delve deeper into the issue. 

He presented a 10-point plan drafted in part by local businesswoman Karen Hoskin and local BLM movement leader Chloe Bowman. The plan includes the call for assessing the community—both Crested Butte and the greater community—for bias and inclusion opportunities. It presents the ideas of painting a street mural in town; pushing marshals to be a regional leader in conversation and reforms; advocating for tourism marketing to reach out to people of color; holding more art/music inclusion events featuring local/regional artists of color; and bringing in speakers to talk about issues such as systemic racism in outdoor recreation.

“Painting a street mural could be a big-time statement for western Colorado,” noted Dujardin.

Council wanted to wait and have the in-depth discussion at its work session, to be on Monday, August 17.

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