Message From The Chief
A letter to our community.
The following remarks were given by Chief Bones to members of the Boise City Club June 30, 2015:
First, thank you for allowing me the opportunity to speak today. Moreover though, I would thank everyone here today and those listening to the broadcast for taking an active interest in our community and policing issues across the United States. It is citizen engagement which is key to continuing to make the Boise area such a great place to live.
Considering the invitation to talk today I could think of no more relevant topic than the role of policing in American society. National issues facing law enforcement today are causing storms across the profession which I have dedicated my career to for this past 22 years. Hopefully, I can provide some perspective and insights, into what is happening nationally and share why I believe our local law enforcement agencies work hard to be different.
Across the United States, police departments and policing as a whole are in the spotlight, the press and the public are asking tough questions. How you look at that spotlight as a police department depends on your perspective. Some Departments become defensive, building walls, hoping the winds of change will pass them by OR Departments can look at this as a challenge to bring even greater professionalism and better practices to a profession most officers are deeply dedicated to. Certainly the present, and I would argue the future of policing, depends on how our profession responds to this challenge. I might even call these challenges, strangely I guess, opportunity.
Events in Fergusson, Detroit, Baltimore and across the country have brought into sharp relief the divide existing in some communities and the police departments which serve them. Incidents of excessive force have provided the match to start fires of protest, but the root issues run much deeper than a single individual incident. In many cities there is a palpable feeling of separation and distrust of their police by many, perhaps even a majority of community members. Leading to a slow and deadly separation of police from the community. As a law enforcement leader I can’t express how much this saddens me.
It’s caused by straying from the basic principles of policing. Sir Robert Peel created the first true London police department in 1829. He is considered the father of modern policing and the principles he created are still the basis of modern policing today. For time’s sake I would speak to just one, the principle I believe is the foundation of successful policing and relates to the issues we see nationally. “The police are the public and the public are the police”.
I dislike the concept of “policing a community”. We don’t “police” our communities, that intones separation and oversight. We provide police services, working WITH our community. Successful policing philosophy is about WE. It requires a partnership between agencies and community groups, between officers and individuals. It is one of the keys to the positive aspects of policing you see across the Treasure Valley. Government and private organizations, groups and individuals working with our Police departments. Last year volunteers at BPD donated over 12,000 hours of their personal time to help our policing efforts and that doesn’t include the great work by organizations like neighborhood watch, Drug Free Idaho and Crime Stoppers. Just this past week you probably a news stories about our Organized Retail Crime unit working with local businesses and the two women from Texas who had fraudulently obtained over $20,000 in gift cards, victimizing other businesses and creating potential nightmares for the legitimate account holders. It was our partnership with local business which made these arrests happen. And these are just a tiny sample of the programs and partnerships you see across the Treasure Valley.
When you begin to see those partnerships fall away, when police agencies fail to reflect the make-up and values of the community, when police agencies become isolated from the public, the public and police begin to view each other in terms of “Us and “Them”. Us versus Them mentalities in a department or as a sentiment in the community are a path to failure. It creates a barrier to every contact before the first word is exchanged and interactions become enforcement focused. This is a sad growth and mischaracterization of a term often used in policing – the “Thin Blue Line”. The “Thin Blue Line” is a concept now sadly often perceived as a line separating police and society when it was conceived to, and should still represent, the line police provide as a fundamental role in maintaining social order and protecting society from those who would do harm.
Police Departments are an extension of the communities they serve. The authority vested in officers flows directly from the community. Ordnances, laws, codes and priorities for police come from the people we serve. It is essential for police to not only understand this derivation of authority but to work to maintain strong positive relationships with the communities who empower them.
Trust is a foundational requirement for effective community relationships. Across the country you have seen the outcomes in cities where trust in police departments has been lost. Trust in any relationship doesn’t’ come naturally, it has to be earned and doesn’t occur without effort. When negative issues occur nationally it takes a toll on our local agencies and the trust we work hard to build.
We need your trust, but it’s not really about us. It’s bigger. Communities where trust in their local police has been lost are more dangerous communities. People don’t want to live there, work there, visit, open a business or send their kids to school. They don’t feel safe. Successful communities, require trust and cooperation, that’s what community is about. Citizens must trust police to be willing to call for help, trust that police will respond and work quickly to protect them from harm. Trust isn’t just a feel good thing; it’s a matter of life safety and a foundation of successful policing.
Every day all 400 members of our police department work hard to earn and maintain your trust and I believe they are doing a pretty good job. Even with the national stories, trust in our local police agencies across the valley has remained high. WHY? Primarily, the daily interactions and efforts by officers to work with our citizens. These interactions occur hundreds of times each day. Our officers engage the public, they talk WITH….. not TO people and we conduct outreach and dedicate extra resources to reach out to groups in our community who may not possess that trust.
Our refugee population is a great example. For the past decade Boise has remained a top 10 per capita refugee resettlement site. We receive refugees from around the world with countries of origin changing as conflicts and abuses arise on different continents. Most refugees come to the US with little understanding of our culture and a deep distrust of government and police. And many have good reason. Most have experienced abuse and seen strong corruption in the police forces from their home countries. Creating trust of local police here in Boise and ensuring this population is comfortable in coming forward for service can be a tall order. Officer Shellie Sonnenburg saw this need and founded the Boise Police Refugee Liaison position about ten years ago, which continues with Officer Dustin Robinson today. They meet with new refugees, teach them about the US, about laws designed to protect them, and perhaps more importantly they create lasting personal relationships that make a difference in people’s lives.
Youth are always a focus. The Boise Police Department had one of the first School Resource Officer programs in the nation, begun in 1970. These officers not only work with teachers, students and staff to create safer schools but also create long lasting relationships and trust. Dick Baranco was a long time SRO who retired at least 15 years ago now. To this day I regularly run into people who ask me, “do you know Det. Baranco”, he was my SRO. This is usually followed by a story of how he affected their lives. And this is just one officer. Keeping SRO’s in the budget is a battle many police agencies have lost. It’s hard to put a dollar amount on crimes prevented and positive relationships formed when there are so many competing needs. But our community, our city and our police department have remained dedicated to the School Resource Officer program and I will tell you we are safer and stronger community because of it.
These are just two of the ways we reach out to vulnerable populations. We have an entire division of the police department dedicated to community outreach. From Bike officers in our parks, greenbelt and downtown to motors responding to traffic safety concerns, from Neighborhood Contact Officers to SRO’s, the entire focus is outreach and problem solving. This is part of our philosophy of community policing.
Outreach alone though is not enough. Part of any community policing agencies philosophy must be a practice of transparency. Transparency is fundamental to maintaining trust. Civilian oversight – our ombudsman, Mayor and Council, an active press asking tough questions, being pro-active in releasing information, both the good and bad. Making information easily available. BPD has worked for the past two decades to increase transparency. If a critical incident occurs we quickly release what happened. Anyone can sign up for our emails and we put information out continually. We were one of the first and are still one of the most progressive agencies in the nation in the use of Facebook, Twitter and new forms of social media. We cut the red tape out the Public Information Process and created the ability for requests to be made on-line. We overhauled our Internal Affairs software to create instant access to all our files by the ombudsman’s office. We work to build avenues to access information, not roadblocks.
We listen and we answer questions. Just in the past few months I and other BPD officers have been invited to speak at several community events relating to current policing issues. At locations like the Black History Museum, our Libraries, BSU and here today. Transparency requires two way communication. Not only must an agency provide information it must provide venues and the ability for any member of our populace to ask questions and receive answers. This has be done from a systems approach, from a policy approach and be a part of the philosophy of an agency. And that last is the most important; it has to be in the individual contacts each officer makes. It is not only ok for our public to ask “why”; we need to encourage the public to ask why. Our procedures and training are grounded in best practice but we can always do better. We must always look for way we can do better.
While the most important element in creating a maintaining trust is each individual citizen contact, there is a tool I have been asked about many times over the past year which can help; body worn cameras. People seem surprised at my response when asked about I feel about cameras. I think they are a great tool and I will tell you the majority of police officers feel the same way.
For the rare occasion when an officer does something wrong they provide greater accountability. Day in and day out, officers are doing great work and right now body worn cameras are the best technology to capture those interactions. From a business perspective they provide protection against liability. As an investigative tool they often provide key evidence, and I couldn’t ask for a better training tool to review calls and learn how to better protect the public, officers and even suspects. Several studies have indicated significant decreases in both use of force and complaints when body cameras are used. While our officers’ already audio record their , evidence shows people behave differently when they know they are being filmed. Both officers and the public are more likely to have that extra bit of patience.
This said, they are not a perfect tool and as is often the case, our laws have lagged behind. Cameras capture everything the lens sees and this includes someone coming to the door in their bathrobe (or less), the inside of your home and the faces of your children. We want to make the right choices to protect the privacy of our citizenry while still making this video accessible. We have been looking at best practices and best policies across the US and are learning from both the successes and failures in program implementation. I believe they are a forthcoming best practice for law enforcement and there is an increasing expectation from society to implement the technology. I look forward to an announcement in the future but I’m happy to tell you we are working with our partners in the city and we are pursuing this technology.
Cadet Graduation – Anne Frank/Human Rights
Transparency and Trust are required for success but neither is of value unless we have the right people wearing the badge.
A recent change BPD has begun involves the graduation of our police cadets. At the conclusion of the academy it has always been tradition for the cadet class to have lunch with our command staff at our station. We now hold the lunch at the Anne Frank Memorial, rain or shine. We invite some very special guests to join us, members of the community representing populations who may not now, or in the past, have had trust in police departments or who have experienced discrimination. These community members speak to our cadets of the experiences they and others have gone through. This past month those representatives were Rabbi Fink, Steve Martin from the PRIDE foundation and Phillip Thomas, past president of our local Muslim association. We do this at the Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial to make sure the last lesson of the academy is one of the most important, that police officers must stand for the rights of EVERY member of our society. To recognize even today others are often not treated equally based simply on their beliefs, gender identity or race and ensuring safety and justice for anyone means treating everyone with respect and dignity.
Every officer takes an oath to support the laws of this country and our constitution. Further, each officer in this country has an affirmative duty to stand for the innate human rights every person possesses. Unfortunately, even in the US, history contains enormous failures of Law Enforcement to stand and protect those for whom they have a sworn duty. We can’t repeat the failures of police and roles played in the internment of over 100,000 Japanese Americans or the excessive force used to prevent demonstrations during the race riots of the 1960’s. Most of all, we can’t accept when rights are violated or unlawful and excessive force is used today.
Police officers must protect EVERY person and their rights. Regardless of race, creed, religion, gender or any other consideration. Most of all, officers must stand for those who have a reduced ability to defend their own rights, whether from fear, discrimination or an inability to speak for themselves. This is the core of why police exist.
Militarization of Police:
The police are the people. If you have turned on a TV in the past year you have probably heard the term “militarization” of police. Much of this discussion has focused on surplus military equipment given to police departments on the federal 1033 program. Boise has been the recipient of some of this equipment; it has not been 50mm rifles or tanks. Items like storage boxes, an Emergency Response Vehicle, binoculars and bomb suit equipment have saved our taxpayers thousands of dollars.
The majority of military equipment is clearly not appropriate for police departments. Police are not military units and should never become one. Nor should they look or act like the military.
The most dangerous element in policing related to militarization is not however equipment. It is mindset. Police aren’t soldiers; we are guardians and protectors of social justice.
Actions like Police response to civil unrest should be to facilitate lawful assemblies and freedom of speech. At BPD, we do sometimes deal with unlawful marches and we have a choice. To implement the letter of the law and drive confrontation or work to facilitate the ability for groups to safely express their message. We endeavor – and we believe our community appreciates – to work with groups, explore options and create solutions, which is what I believe the authors of our constitution would have intended, that same constitution every police officer is sworn to uphold.
It comes back to officers being a part of the community we serve. When you feel a sense of belonging and kinship you form a bond between officers and the community. Across our valley the overwhelming majority of our officers live in the cities they work in or the metro area which we share. Their children go to our schools, play in our parks, families work here, shop in local stores, they are a part of Boise. They possess the dual role of Boise Police Officer and Community Member.
We ask our officers to protect, serve and lead our community to a safer tomorrow. While protecting the community may happen almost always on duty the second two pieces of our Department’s mission just as often occur in our officer’s private lives. Many of our members are scout leaders, coaches, they belong to volunteer organizations, serve on boards, churches or with non-profits. Each week I learn new ways members, both on and off duty, make Boise a better place to live.
Our hiring process looks for these kinds of people. People with a heart for service and helping others. BPD, as other agencies across the US, are seeing lower applicant rates. It is becoming harder to attract high quality candidates. The economy is good, jobs are plentiful and police work, if you are watching national news, doesn’t seem like the most attractive career. However, we steadfastly refuse to lower our standards. We don’t hire people for a job, we hire them for a career, and at BPD we are fortunate they stay for 20, 25, 30 years. We will often go through 200 applicants to fill 5 positions and if we can’t find the kind of officer who has a heart for service we will leave the position empty.
We constantly work to reinforce our values and sense of community. I spoke earlier of the Anne Frank Memorial but one of the newest additions to our academy is to have cadets spend a day assigned to a volunteer organization. Officers and staff have embraced this idea along with the service organizations they serve with. We think it is essential our officers have an understanding of the incredible work done by volunteer organizations in our community and to build relationships with those providers for their future as officers on the street. When we interview candidates who want to become police officers we want to know about what they have done to volunteer in their community and WHY they volunteered. We seek people who WANT to volunteer, who want to give back to their community.
The quality of staff working at the BPD is what makes us a successful department. The best ideas, programs and outreach we accomplish come from our officers and staffs self-initiative and ideas. Programs like “Big’s in Blue” where officers take children waiting for a big brother or big sister to events, Shop with a Cop conducted by the nonprofit Boise Police association raises thousands of dollars and takes underprivileged youth shopping for Christmas and back to school, and PAL, the Boise Police Activity League offers programs like boxing, golf and soccer to local young people.
I often talk with officers we hire about why they came to BPD. It’s a long and difficult process to get hired by the Boise police Department and then you face an additional 9 months of training before you ever get a chance to go out on your own. I generally hear the same answers from officers who came to our department from within Idaho;- it is almost always because they believe BPD is a great department to work for. They know us, they’ve seen the variety of assignments they can do, and they see the community support for the department and the department’s support for the community.
For those who come from outside the state, it is almost always to raise their family here in the Boise Valley. They have heard or seen what a great place Boise is, the streets are clean, kids can ride their bike to the neighbors, and you seldom see graffiti. People smile and wave when they pass by. This is a great place to live. Our Mayor has set our goal to be the most livable city in the country and I have yet to see a more livable place.
Why is Boise such a great place? We are in the high desert – it gets hot! - we are the most isolated mid-size city in the country, we don’t have a beach or a professional sports team (although most pro teams would love to have the support the Broncos get and I’ll take them over any professional team.). It’s the people and the fact people engage in our City. People take ownership of their neighborhoods and pride in the cleanliness of their parks and the safety of their streets.
Why are our area police agencies different? It’s because our communities are different. Our police department is a reflection of what this community values. The citizens of Boise and our surrounding communities are the families from which most of our police officers come. People participate in community events, like they have for generations. They work for the greater good and put others first. People here care, and they want Boise to be a place where people feel safe, safe enough to open businesses and enjoy barbecues in the park and walks down the greenbelt. It’s no surprise you see the same qualities in the officers who make up the Boise Police Department. Again, the people are the police and police are the people.
Policing is a constantly evolving profession with ever new challenges. Today, the department’s response to problems, tactics and most certainly the type of force used is under increasing public scrutiny. “Because we have to” is no longer an acceptable response. Communities want to know why actions are taken, why force was employed and if there are alternative ways to deal with a negative situations. 30 years ago if a police officer gave someone a lawful order it was generally followed immediately and frankly, if not, the person may have went to jail. Now it is common for officers to hear the response of “why”. And when the situation is not an emergency and time allows, officers should to take the time to explain “why”. The public expects a reasoned approach and demands professionalism from officers.
More is being asked of police officers today than any time in the past. Social support systems and funding for those services continue to be cut. Officers work increasingly with those suffering from severe mental health problems that fall through the cracks of social service nets. Our prisons lack training programs, substance abuse programs struggle for funding. As more and more services are cut, its police who are asked to provide solutions for those in need. Many in policing might say, this is not our job. But community leadership is part of our mission at the Boise Police Department and it impacts our public safety. I would argue it IS part of our current and future role and responsibility to look for solutions and lead the way toward implementing them.
Our police officers will always stand in the breach, they will always risk their own lives to go forward towards danger to save others. But today they must also be councilors, lawyers, Social Service coordinators and mediators. They continue to fill an increased role in helping others solve deep seeded and long standing problems, becoming a part of the larger efforts of the community and often being the one common resource across the myriad of efforts which to make a difference. Not only do our officers have to possess the skills necessary for these challenges, most importantly they must possess the drive and courage it takes to help others.
At Boise PD we are constantly evolving, both to address changing criminal activity and to simply enhance the service we provide. We are creating a downtown micro district, moving from function based silos to geographic tailored policing services, with more officers on foot and bikes working directly with community members. Boise’s downtown is a vibrant mixture of business owners and residents, from our chronic homeless to the thousands who attending special events, to students and visitors, commuters and all those who work in the heart of Idaho’s government, financial and business district . We look forward to working with all these groups through the Downtown Micro-District,
Our monthly Coffee with a Cop events across the city are opportunities for anyone to come, sit down with an officer and get questions answered, help or simply talk. We have created a mental health outreach position who works to bring coordination of services and stop people from reaching that crisis moment. We have officers who act as designated liaisons to unique communities such as LGBT, NAACP, the chronic homeless and our refugee population.
We are active and moving forward. While the path of policing continues to evolve, I see a future full of promise. I see an opportunity for police agencies to take that next step, to not only protect their communities, but to empower our employees to look for opportunities to make meaningful and positive change, to be the voice for those in need and protector for those whose uniqueness may make them vulnerable.
I would challenge those here and those listening, get involved. Be active in any of the great programs and organizations that give a helping hand. Find what’s meaningful to you and make a choice to make a difference.
And I ask you to work with me and my officers, to work with your police departments to make every community in this country one of opportunity, where people can envision a promising future and actually take the steps to create it, and to ensure a just society for every person. Remember, the Police are the People and People are the police. We are all in this together.
February 3, 2015
I have been granted an incredibly rare opportunity, the chance to serve as the Chief of Police for the City of Boise, the best city in America, and in what I firmly believe is the best police department in the Country. I would like to thank the entire community for providing me this privilege. For the past 22 years, the Boise Police Department (BPD) has provided me a career where I still look forward to coming to work each day and a fantastic place for my family and me to grow together. I very much look forward to the opportunity of giving back to the city and police department which has given me so much.
Boise enjoys an enviable relationship between its police department and community. We believe we are a part of our community and those we serve are friends, neighbors, family and all who enjoy living in the city we’ve chosen to call home. As I have watched events unfold across the Country, I have been deeply saddened by the damaged relationships between police and the people they serve. These incidents may be isolated and their root causes deep and complex, but as police leaders, it’s useful and wise for all of us to reflect on how these divides developed. It appears a lack of communication and failure on the part of police to engage with community members has played a role in creating feelings of anger, distrust and alienation. It will take years to repair those fractured relationships, but public safety depends on it and it is my deep hope and desire that healing will occur.
Policing is a social contract wherein a community empowers and charges members of the community, the police officers, with maintaining the safety of all citizens. Police are an extension of the social consciousness with a sworn duty to protect the rights and safety of those they serve. The role of a police department is to be an integral part of the community it serves, providing a foundation of safety to foster a more livable city.
In Boise, we continue to follow that path, the path BPD has taken over the past decade; working with you to earn your trust, forging cooperative and beneficial relationships and accepting only the highest level of service for all. Transparency, community involvement, an honest relationship with citizens and a genuine desire to create a better place to live will drive our decisions. We will work proactively with our citizenry to solve problems, providing pathways for partnerships instead of roadblocks, and always with a dedication to making Boise the most livable city in America.
Our Officers will, without hesitation, risk their lives for people they have never met. They will rush forward towards danger when every instinct tells others to flee. As life safety is a priority, so is the feeling of safety. Our officers are committed to working with you to solve community issues by employing new ideas, building partnerships with stakeholders, and keeping focused on the best interests of our neighborhoods safety.
Many of us are proud to have played a part as Boise has become a great city; a welcoming place for people from all walks of life to meet, to work and live and play. Our city has become an example of what a city can do to appreciate families as well as businesses, to re-energize neighborhoods and provide opportunities for employment to entertainment. But only a safe city can be vibrant and successful. Boise PD has also grown, and I’m proud to say, has become a leading example of what law enforcement and their community partners can do together.
While we have many successes, we are constantly looking for ways we can do even better. We seek best practices and new ideas from across the world and I will admit, we freely “borrow from the best” any great idea we believe we can implement and make work for us. As a department we will try new ideas and programs. We will learn from ideas that don't work as well as we’d hoped and continue to improve on those that do. We will move forward in taking Boise to a safer tomorrow.
Again, thank you for this opportunity to serve as your police chief and thank you for being the most important part of what makes Boise such a great place to live. It’s the incredible people of this city who inspire me to do all I can to make Boise the most livable city in America.
Your Police Chief
William L. "Bill" Bones