Police Budget

Police cruisers line the parking lot of the Law and Justice Center on June 23.

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The city of Bozeman has published a report outlining ways it can improve its policies aimed at combating police brutality and discrimination, which will be presented to the city commission Monday.

The city’s internal review of its policies was conducted by staff including City Manager Jeff Mihelich, Police Chief Steve Crawford, and Kristin Donald, the city finance and interim human resources director. They measured the city’s policies against those outlined by four sources — the Thrive Index, Municipal Equality Index, the 8 Can’t Wait campaign and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

The report includes 24 actions the city can take to be more inclusive and prevent discrimination of residents and city employees.

“We reviewed our policies in great detail,” Mihelich said. “We’re in really good shape when it comes to anti-discrimination.”

Judith Heilman, executive director of the Montana Racial Equity Project, said she reviewed the report on Friday with her team. They have concerns.

To begin with, Heilman said, the report cites statistics about the number of racial minorities who live in Bozeman, who have applied for city jobs, who have been offered city jobs and who have taken city jobs. She said the stats cited are confusing and don’t seem representative of the full picture in Bozeman based on what she and her staff know to be true.

More concerning, said Heilman, a former police officer, is the use of the 8 Can’t Wait campaign to guide part of the city’s review. The campaign asks city governments to take eight immediate steps, like banning chokeholds and requiring de-escalation training, to prevent police violence. The concept went viral on social media and the city received many letters advocating for its implementation.

However, the concept has since been found to be misleading and detracting from real progress, Heilman said. The founders of the campaign have apologized for it. Many big cities, like San Francisco and Chicago, already have all 8 steps in place and police brutality is still a problem in those places.

“You can adopt these things and still be a very problematic police department,” Heilman said.

Heilman said she’s surprised the Montana Racial Equity Project wasn’t asked to help with the review. She said that her team may compile their concerns in a letter to send to the city and will attend during Monday’s commission meeting.

The report was requested by city commissioners in the wake of George Floyd’s death and subsequent protests against police violence and racism. Thousands marched in Bozeman, which MTREP helped organize, and hundreds wrote letters to city leaders urging them to make changes to their budget, policies and policing.

Some asked for the city to put more money toward social services, like mental health care and resources to address homelessness. Others have asked for police reforms that aim to prevent police brutality from happening. Many asked for leaders to listen to those who are Black, Indigenous and other people of color about their experiences with racism in Bozeman.

Staff used three questions to guide their review: What policies are in place? What’s working well? And what needs improvement?

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

Only a quarter of city staff are women.

The report says the city also should “evaluate” how it tracks diversity on citizen advisory boards. Mihelich said that these boards provide key recommendations that help staff and the city commission make decisions, and that like the demographic make up among employees, the boards should be representative of Bozeman’s population.

The report found the city needs to improve the way it handles anonymous complaints. Right now, people who want to bring concerns about harassment or mistreatment must include their names. The report says that this policy “fails to consider the needs of the victim and should be reviewed.”

The report also recommends that the police department create a stand-alone citizen complaint process with “greater transparency, education and 24/7 access to the process.”

The recommendations also include having staff go through more anti-discrimination training, updating hiring policies in hopes of recruiting 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.

Mihelich said he’ll be looking for feedback on the report’s findings from city commissioners and the public during Monday’s meeting, and that will inform when and how the report’s recommendations for improvement are implemented

Commissioner Terry Cunnigham, who initially requested the review, said he thinks the report is an “honest analysis” and points the city in the right direction. He said he’ll be asking for more specifics on Monday about who will conduct staff training and when those will happen.

“We have asked the city to self-diagnose, we have seen the patient’s report, and now it’s up to the commission to make sure that outside specialists are called in so we can achieve our goals,” Cunningham said.

Bozeman’s city commission will meet virtually over Webex beginning at 6 p.m. on Monday. More information about how to join the meeting can be found at bozeman.net.

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

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