From left: Yolanda Avila, Deb Walker and JJ Frazier discuss the LETAC during an Aug. 21 town hall at the Chinook Center.

The Law Enforcement Transparency and Accountability Commission was the main topic of a town hall held by District 4 City Councilor at the Chinook Center earlier this week. 

Deb Walker, a commissioner for LETAC, and JJ Frazier, chair of the group, joined Avila to discuss progress for the commission, created after George Floyd's murder in Minneapolis last summer, which set off nationwide protests against police overreach. 

“I have been a liaison for the LETAC, alongside Wayne Williams and Randy Helms, and I’ve watched the commission grow in knowledge and in listening and in coming together,” said Avila, who in the past criticized the development of the LETAC for its lack of oversight ability. “There was nothing like this, ever. They came together and figured out how they were going to move forward."

Both Frazier and Walker acknowledged the perceived shortcomings of the LETAC, but also pointed to achievements, such as their first official recommendation that city council authorize approximately $210,000 in annual funding to crisis response teams that respond to calls involving mental health issues.

Walker also noted that simply having a body like the LETAC is forcing changes from the Colorado Springs Police Department.

“Everything we do and say, including citizen comments, is public record, it’s happening in official meetings,” she said. “Ongoing input from the community and really calling out power structures and what the CSPD narrative is, that’s valuable. There is value in that. I think that CSPD really understands that they’re being scrutinized right now. The existence of LETAC is part of that. I’ve been interested to see some of the things they’re doing of their own volition, but I think it’s because they are being scrutinized really heavily. One example of that is the data hub. One year ago it was really hard to get any information off of CSPD’s website. [The data hub] is not an official LETAC recommendation.”

Frazier encouraged community members to take a more active role in LETAC proceedings.

“I want to stress the importance of your voices,” she said. “We meet twice a month, every month, and we are always hearing from CSPD. We are getting minimal to none response from the community. Please, if you feel we have no teeth, there’s a reason for that. We’re getting one side of the story. If you can, log in, write in, call us, email us, whatever you have to do. We cannot move forward with your concerns if we’re not receiving them. We have to hear your voices. [CSPD] have to hear your voices through us, and maybe that will change the dynamic.”

Avila noted the importance of civic engagement when it comes to law enforcement reform.

“It’s so crucial that everybody here, especially in our community of color, get out to elect the public officials they want to represent them,” she said. “Right now, I would venture to say, most of the council doesn’t represent the Southeast interest as heartily. Maybe in affordable housing, yeah. We have five different affordable housing projects going up, it’s great. Two of them are Urban Renewal Authority projects, but it goes hand-in-hand. What happens, ultimately, when we have clashes with the police, it started before. It started before with food deserts and economic deserts. In 80916 they never had a clinic there, never, for people go have dental, vision and check-ups until 2019. All of that, and we live in an urban heat island. We’re 6 to 8 degrees hotter than the rest of the city. We don’t have trees. In our district, when we don’t have trees that offer shade it’s a big thing. It ends up with clashes with police, it ends up in the emergency room with death. On one side we have to build our economic power, on the other side we have to build our political base that serves the interests of the community at large.”

Avila also drew attention to redistricting efforts that could impact Southeast Colorado Springs’ House representation.

“Right now, there’s a redistricting effort,” she said. “There’s an independent commission, but the lines are drawn to cut Southeast right in half, our voting bloc in half for our district, which right now is District 17. If you live south of Fountain Boulevard, you’re in a house district with The Broadmoor and downtown. Who do you think the elected officials will be from? North of Fountain, all the way to Austin Bluffs. Our ability to vote as a community of interests has been diluted and split. We need to have our voices heard. It’s not partisan.”

The independent redistricting commission will hold a hearing at 12:00 p.m. at Pikes Peak Community College on Saturday, Aug. 28 to gather public comment. Community members can also submit public comment online if they are unable to attend in-person hearings.

Heidi Beedle is a former soldier, educator, activist, and animal welfare worker. She received a Bachelor’s in English from UCCS. She has worked as a freelance writer covering LGBTQ issues, nuclear disasters, cattle mutilations, and social movements.