BOISE, Idaho — Editor's Note: This article was originally published by the Idaho Press.
The majority of respondents to a survey believe Boise’s police oversight office is important, and they would feel comfortable filing a complaint against an officer.
The results of the city’s survey were released Tuesday. Also on Tuesday, Boise City Council members passed an ordinance establishing a new model for the independent, civilian-led office, formerly known as the Office of Police Oversight.
The new Office of Police Accountability is charged with investigating resident complaints against the Boise Police Department and auditing the department’s Office of Internal Affairs investigations, among other things. It will be led by a full-time director, an increase in hours for the former part-time position. City leaders say the new office will expand the investigative power of civilian oversight.
The police oversight survey drew 828 responses, 732 of which were submitted by Boise residents. It asked about familiarity with the old model and provided information on the new one, but it did not ask specific policy questions, Maria Weeg, director of community engagement, told the city council Tuesday.
“It was much more dipping our toes in the pool to see what the community knows about civilian police oversight, what the community feels about civilian police oversight, whether or not folks have had an opportunity to interact with the current model … and what the community would be looking for moving forward in a model of civilian police oversight,” Weeg said.
More than three-quarters of respondents said civilian police oversight is extremely (44%), very (19%) or somewhat (14%) important. However, about two-thirds said they are not at all familiar (24%) or only somewhat familiar (44%) with the current oversight model.
“One resident said, ‘You know, I’ve lived in Boise for 20 years, and I’ve never had to access police oversight, but I would want to know that it was there and if somebody needed it we would need to make sure that we have it in place,’” Weeg said. “And that was a really common theme.”
About 62% of respondents said they would feel comfortable filing a complaint with the office. Those who said they wouldn’t feel comfortable (15%) or are unsure (24%) said they would need to know that they could remain anonymous and wouldn’t face retribution for filing a complaint.
Councilman Patrick Bageant said the results showed some complainants are more concerned with the process hurting them than with the effectiveness of the process itself.
“That’s something we all need to be mindful of as we help the public learn about the office that we’re creating …” Bageant said. “It looks … like there’s real concern, not necessarily with the outcome of police conduct investigations on the police but the outcome of police conduct investigations on the complainant, and that’s just something we should all be very sensitive to and pay attention to.”
Another common theme in the results is transparency. Respondents said they hope complaints are taken seriously and office staff will follow up. Additionally, they hope for regular reporting on complaints along with accessible statistics and information on complaint trends.
The survey data will be shared with the new Office of Police Accountability director when they are named.
Ryan Suppe is the Boise City Hall and Treasure Valley business reporter for the Idaho Press. Contact him at 208-344-2055 (ext. 3038). Follow him on Twitter @salsuppe.