City Council discusses Floyd memorial, police accountability

Samantha Ye

Fort Collins residents and City Council discussed overarching issues of police brutality, accountability and systemic racism locally against the backdrop of nationwide protests over the killing of George Floyd.

Over 300 protests spread across every state in the U.S. have come about since last Monday, when a Minneapolis police officer killed Floyd by kneeling on his neck for nearly nine minutes, according to NBC News. It is one of the latest killings of an unarmed Black person this year in a pattern of systemic racism in law enforcement. 

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Fort Collins has held several rallies to honor Floyd and other lives lost to police brutality, locations including in front of the Fort Collins Police Services building, at City Park and at the CSU Oval.

Several residents brought those concerns to City Council Tuesday night to see what Fort Collins is doing to address racism and police accountability. 

“We as youth want to tell the Fort Collins police force that we are angry, we are here and we will fight for justice; we are not going away,” resident Hana Beachy-Quick said. “We are seeking to find a long term solution to this problem. And while we know that there haven’t been major incidents in Fort Collins, we would like to see some preventative actions so nothing like this will ever happen in our community.”

Removal of George Floyd memorials

Fort Collins community members gather outside of the Fort Collins Police Department on Timberline Road to protest police brutality in solidarity with the protesters in Minneapolis and around the country May 29. (Matt Tackett | The Collegian)

Over the weekend, memorials left for Floyd outside the FCPS building were removed to the confusion of attendees. 

Police Chief Jeff Swoboda said he made the decision to remove items left by residents because of the poor weather and since the police were not equipped to preserve the memorial themselves. They did take photos of the memorial items, however. 

Objects like memorial posters and burned candles have been donated to the Museum of Discovery to be preserved and archived as a piece of national and Fort Collins history “for future generations years down the road to look back at ‘what did our community do during this time,’” Swoboda said. 

Because the museum is currently closed, exact plans for the memorial items remain undecided. 

Current actions from FCPS

Protesters kneel and hold up their fists outside of the Colorado State University administration building June 2. The march follows a week of protests after the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man in Minneapolis Police custody. (Matt Tackett | The Collegian)

In addition to the statements Swoboda has already made, the main goal of police services right now is to listen to the community, he said.

“I’ve been a police officer for 28 years and police chief for 10 years, and we don’t have this race thing figured (out); our society doesn’t have race figured out,” Swoboda said. “So, the number one thing that I’m doing, and (that) I’m encouraging my officers and my command staff, is to listen.”

The Fort Collins marches have been peaceful, leading to no arrests or property damage, Swoboda said.

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Swoboda and several council members emphasized the importance of listening to protesters and young adults for ideas on enacting change and engaging with affected community members. They are open to any potential avenues for community engagement. 

Councilmember Emily Gorgol said racial profiling does happen in Fort Collins, which makes groups feel less welcome in the community. 

Police services are starting mandatory unconscious bias and ethics training this year, which was delayed due to COVID-19, Swoboda said. 

Gorgol asked FCPS to look into engaging the community during the hiring process for new officers. She also asked to compare City spending on police services versus community programming which can further transformational justice. 

“Police is (one area of) response to systemic racism, but I think it’s more than just that,” Gorgol said. 

Current policies of FCPS

Council asked Swoboda to breakdown FCPS’ policies on some of the pressing issues surrounding police accountability. 

Excessive force: Swoboda said the tactic of kneeling on someone’s neck is not a tactic FCPS officers would ever use. Officers who see other officers use excessive force are required to report it, according to Colorado law

Hiring racist officers: To avoid hiring people with problematic attitudes or who are unfit for FCPS, Swoboda said the current hiring process implements layers of examinations for stress, psychological fitness and a ride-along with the candidate to observe how they behave in uniform. FCPS does not hire “problem officers” from other places, he said. 

Reviewing officer conduct: Complaints about officer conduct sent to FCPS are reviewed internally by chain of command and by the external Citizen Review Board. The board currently has at least one person of color, Swoboda said. While Swoboda makes the final decision regarding the complaint, he said he takes into account discrepancies between board and internal findings. 

Body cameras: Body cameras should be turned on during conversation for response calls when the officer is acting in an official capacity. If an officer does not turn it on, Swoboda said they are given the “benefit of doubt” for forgetting since it might not be their first instinct to turn on body cameras when responding to unexpected situations. Multiple instances of failing to turn on the camera will result in discipline, however. Mayor Pro Tem Kristin Stephens suggested making camera use more habitual through training.

Samantha Ye can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @samxye4.