Colorado Springs City Council announced the 11 members of the Law Enforcement Transparency and Accountability Commission (LETAC) last month, despite calls for a commission with more authority to investigate police overreach and mete out punishments.
The LETAC members from southeast Colorado Springs Council District 4 are Justin Baker, Janice Frazier and Dennis Moore.
Work to establish a citizens police oversight body began in February and took on greater urgency following protests in Colorado Springs in the wake of George Floyd’s death. The Austin Group, made up of community and city leaders, worked to establish a police oversight commission after the 2019 death of De’Von Bailey, who was shot by Colorado Springs police when he was stopped after a 911 call about a robbery. They went to the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement Symposium to learn more and craft their proposal. Things grew more complicated this year, when The People, an activist group formed by local protesters, presented a second option, one that would give the commission less power — the option city council members eventually adopted. The process garnered still more criticism when Springs residents learned that Luis Velez, former police chief in Colorado Springs and then Pueblo, would be a commission member.
Not all councilors were on board with the decisions made, and one of those opposing is District 4 Councilor Yolanda Avila, who disagreed not only with the commission’s scope of authority, but also with the selection process.
“The only reason we’re going to have this commission — it started with De’Von Bailey, a shooting in my district of a Black man. When the protests happened after George Floyd there was a big uproar, and people were upset because of African American men dying at the hands of police. That’s why people came to protest, and ultimately that’s why we made a move on this [LETAC]. To have police officers and their families [on the commission] — when both The People and the Austin Group said ‘No,’ — we’ve already begun the first betrayal.”
Baker, a new commission member who was involved with the proposal submission process with The People in June, said Velez’s appointment was to be expected — and doesn’t concern him.
“When we wrote the proposal we said ‘no law enforcement that had anything to do with El Paso County,’” he said. “We kind of expected some type of diversity in this. I think it will be good. I know people are upset about it, but at the end of the day, the committee is made up of more than just two individuals. In the bylaws it says ‘vote on everything.’ Nothing will be just ‘we said this, this is how it goes.’ Everybody has a say. If a majority of people don’t agree, unfortunately, we won’t make decisions going that direction. I know some of the individuals who are unhappy about it. At this point we can only take steps forward. Being upset and pondering over it is only going to take us backwards, so whatever we can do to move forward I’m all about.”
City Council President Richard Skorman voiced his support for Velez during the Sept. 14 work session.
“There’s a lot of issues around whether we should have a former police officer on there,” he said. “I went back and forth about it myself, but one may not be a death knell. Certainly [Luis}Velez has a lot of experience. I think that perspective really needs to be there.”
Councilors spent much of the LETAC work session addressing concerns about “balance” on the commission regarding representation from both civilians and former law enforcement. Wayne Williams, at-large councilmember who attended the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement Symposium in Austin, Texas, in March, also supported Velez’s appointment, “When we presented in April talking about this, and the initial proposal for this, it was for a balanced commission that would have a variety of points of view. It is not a betrayal to continue that process and to have folks from across the spectrum.”
Velez isn’t the only member of the LETAC with ties to law enforcement.
“Dennis Moore is one of them who’s more of a conservative, pro-police person, and I always felt, early on, you want to have a balance,” Skorman said. Moore is a former Neighborhood Watch organizer and block captain who resigned from the Colorado Springs Police Department’s Neighborhood Watch program in 2014 because of CSPD’s policy banning civilian employees and volunteers from carrying weapons in public while performing duties on behalf of CSPD.
Councilors also debated the geographic representation for the LETAC before coming to their final decisions.
“We need more representation from the areas that have been more impacted by police interaction in a negative way than not,” said Avila. “The way that it’s going right now, it’s mind blowing. It will be transparent that we really don’t care, that we want window dressing and we want people to think like we do here on the dais.” The LETAC consists of one member each from Districts 1, 2 and 5; two from District 6; and three from both Districts 3 and 4, along with two alternates from Districts 4 and 5.
“It’s probably also worth noting that District 3 has the most arrests versus District 4,” Williams said. “This isn’t just about those that are arrested; it’s about providing public safety in our community. It’s providing a safe environment for officers to interact with citizens. Safe for citizens, and safe for officers. That is such a critical component of what this commission is ultimately going to do. To make it so you feel safe calling the police, and to make it so the police feel safe responding. We want a safe community.”
Despite some controversy about the makeup of the LETAC, the commission is now ready to perform its duties.
“My biggest goal right now is helping get the bylaws set,” said Baker. “Get everybody on the same page before we really try to do any type of community structuring or make suggestions or anything like that. They want us to go through some training programs that the police go through as well. That’s what we’re focused on right now, getting all that squared away, getting our training down, getting familiar with the people on the board and then from there we can start looking at the data and everything. We can start one step at a time and bridging this gap in the community and bringing officers and the community together.”