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Bozeman residents have voiced concerns over a city review of its anti-discrimination and police policies, a process that began in response to protests against racism and police brutality.

At a city commission meeting Monday night, residents raised doubts about the recommendations of the review, whether they would create real change or uphold the status quo, and about the use of the “8 Can’t Wait” campaign that guided parts of it.

But the objection repeated most throughout the evening was that city staff conducted the review without an independent, third-party consultant or input from any people of color.

“I think it’s very important to get the actual perspective of the community, particularly the (Black, Indigenous and people of color) community. Because when you’re critiquing yourself, implicit bias is evident, and is, in fact, guaranteed with this approach,” said resident Logan Platt.

About 20 people gave public comment Monday, and even more wrote letters to the city about the review.

Entitled “Bozeman as an Inclusive City: Review of Policies,” the review was requested by city commissioners in June after local demonstrations drew thousands protesting police violence and racism perpetrated against people of color.

Organized by Montana State University’s Black Student Union, Bozeman United for Racial Justice and the Montana Racial Equity Project, protesters gathered and marched downtown demanding local action as civil unrest erupted around the country sparked by the police killing of George Floyd and others.

Commissioner Terry Cunningham initially requested the review, saying he was sickened by the video that showed a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck.

A majority of city commissioners backed the request and asked staff to analyze city anti-discrimination policies and city police practices, especially those related to the use-of-force.

City Manager Jeff Mihelich said staff, including Police Chief Steve Crawford, reviewed 18 city policies and asked three questions for each: What policies are in place? What’s working well? What needs improvement? The final review outlines 24 recommendations for improvement.

Those recommendations include having staff attend more anti-discrimination training, updating hiring policies to recruit more diverse staff, updating the police department’s use-of-force policy to make it more clear what is and isn’t allowed, and to provide the commission with quarterly reports on how these efforts are going.

The report also asks the city to become a member of the Government Alliance on Race and Equity and to develop a diversity and inclusion plan. That plan would “engage stakeholders” and “identify gaps” to inform city policy, according to the review.

In response to criticism over the internal review, Mihelich said that developing the diversity and inclusion plan will be an opportunity for outside consultation and involvement of Black, Indigenous and other people of color.

The report found that racial and gender diversity among city employees does not represent Bozeman’s general population. Only a quarter of city staff are women. According to the report, 3% of city staff are people of color while 10% of the general population are people of color.

Judith Heilman, executive director of the Montana Racial Equity, disputed that specific statistic during Monday’s meeting, saying her organization believes it’s an undercount of the number of Black, Indigenous and people of color living in Bozeman.

The report says the city also should better track diversity on citizen advisory boards, as they help staff and the city commission make policy decisions.

Anna Rosenberry, an assistant city manager who worked on the review, said Monday night that the demographic makeup of city employees and board members should reflect the demographic makeup of the city. She said the city already follows best practices to provide equal opportunity to diverse populations. For example, the city created an online job application portal so that applicants from all over the country can access it.

However, the city’s hiring policy has not been updated since 2009. Rosenberry said that policy is due for an update. The Bozeman Police Department also plans to focus on hiring more diverse candidates, according to the report.

The report found the city needs to improve the way it handles complaints and should allow them to be anonymous. The report recommends that the police department create a stand-alone citizen complaint process.

The report also suggests that the police department move up its timeline for the purchase of body-cameras for all officers. That’s on schedule to happen in 2024, but city staff say that should happen sooner.

Crawford said his department would “augment” its current anti-discrimination and anti-racial profiling policies with guidance outlined by the International Association of Police Chiefs’ Bias-Free Policing policy. It aims to encourage “fair and bias-free treatment of all people and to clarify the circumstances in which agency personnel may consider specified characteristics when carrying out duties.”

Crawford said these values are already prioritized by the department, but that an official policy will formalize that.

“We give a very strong emphasis on a customer-service approach,” Crawford said.

The city received dozens of comments asking for implementation of the policies outlined by the “8 Can’t Wait” campaign, so staff used it as a framework for analysis, Mihelich said. The campaign, which went viral on social media, asks city governments to take eight immediate steps, like banning chokeholds and requiring de-escalation training, to prevent police violence. However, after receiving backlash from experts, the founders of the campaign apologized, saying they realized it detracted from real progress and was only a short-term solution.

This was a major sticking point for many who spoke during Monday’s meeting.

Heilman, the director of the Montana Racial Equity Project and a former police officer, said that the campaign is problematic, that there are many cities that have adopted the steps outlined, but have not eradicated police brutality, racial profiling or discrimination.

Heilman said she was surprised her organization wasn’t consulted for the review given that MTREP has expertise on these types of reforms and training. Heilman commended the city for doing the review but said there’s lots of work to be done and more that could be added to the report’s recommendations.

“There is still a long way the Bozeman Police Department has to go, though they are one of the best of all the police departments here in the state,” Heilman said.

Benjamin Finegan, an employee of MTREP and volunteer with Bozeman United for Racial Justice, said he was concerned that the city planned to speed up the purchase of body-cameras for officers. He said he doesn’t support allocating more money to the police department, especially for new surveillance tools. Finegan said the city should invest in social services instead.

“If Bozeman is truly committed to diversity and to supporting Black, Indigenous and people of color in our community, then I believe we should be seeing things around affordable housing, around dealing with addiction, around dealing with mental illness, around dealing with homelessness, around jobs and so many other things that our people need,” Finegan said.

Esmie Hurd, a senior at Bozeman High School, echoed the call to redistribute taxpayer money away from the police department to social services. She said the action items outlined in the review are “toothless” and that using the “8 Can’t Wait” campaign to guide reforms won’t created real change.

“I don’t want any commissioner to pat themselves on the back for implementing a watered-down program that’s proven not to work,” Hurd said.

City commissioners were asked two questions at the meeting — whether they were satisfied with the report and whether they agreed with the city’s recommendations. There was general consensus among the five commissioners that they were satisfied and agreed with the review as a first step in a long process.

Cunningham said he would like for staff to next outline a budget and timeline for implementation. The city does have $61,000 set aside for training, which was taken away from the police department in June during budget discussions for that purpose.

Deputy Mayor Cyndy Andrus suggested the city could hire a new employee to oversee diversity and inclusion efforts, and the idea was supported by other commissioners and Mihelich.

Andrus said diversity, equity and inclusion should be incorporated into the city’s strategic plan. She said she’s satisfied with the report only as a first step.

“These are not easy conversations and I think we’re going to have more conversations like this, and they’re not going to get easier. But they’re necessary,” Andrus said.

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Shaylee Ragar can be reached at sragar@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2607.

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