On April 20, Boulder’s new, and first female, police chief started work in the midst of a global pandemic and public health crisis. Maris Herold comes to the People’s Republic from Cincinnati, Ohio, where she served in the city’s police department for more than two decades, most recently as the chief of University of Cincinnati Police Division. Boulder may not have the same challenges as Cincinnati, where law enforcement often deals with “gang violence and shooting environments,” Herold says, but she plans to use her background to implement innovative and progressive police reform and improve community relations.
Boulder Weekly caught up with Herold after her first week on the job to talk about her vision for the city, how she plans to engage underrepresented populations, and booster both community and officer morale. Here’s what she had to say.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Boulder Weekly: What’s it like to start in the middle of the pandemic?
Maris Herold: Obviously it’s not ideal circumstances to start a new position. The first two weeks I was in Boulder, I had to be under quarantine, so that was challenging. But the city leadership team has done a great job welcoming me and making me feel like I’m part of a team and that’s hard to do during a big crisis like we’re having.
So, my calendar right now is full of one-on-ones with the police department and community members (both in person and virtually). I’m reaching out to everybody and I’m trying to do my best, considering the circumstances, just to put a face to the name and get some type of understanding where everybody feels the police are doing good things and the police need some improvement on other things. As I move forward, I need to understand from the community what their priorities are and start ensuring that our policies and procedures align with the community’s vision for policing. It’s just important for trust issues.
BW: How do you plan on building more trust within the community, especially with marginalized populations (communities of color, unhoused individuals) who haven’t always had the most positive experiences with local law enforcement?
MH: Deeper trust is much more challenging than engaging in functions at meetings or whatever. It really is working through these problems together and seeing how challenging they are. I develop strategies with the community, not in the absence of the community. Any type of crime prevention or disorder issues or quality of life issues, I expect the community to partner with me and help me solve these issues. And I think once you start doing those big projects with the community where you’re not just working in isolation, you’re working with community leaders and community members that are impacted by these problems, then you really start to get a better, deeper relationship. …
I want to ensure that we’re a model agency. There is a lot of talent in this police department and I want to seek some type of international accreditation. I don’t know which one we’ll select, but it’s basically outside monitors come in and make sure that all your policies and procedures are best practices in policing. It’s things like that we can do to bolster community trust.
BW: What’s your take on Boulder’s camping ban and giving citations to folks who may not have anywhere else to be?
MH: I understand that we have a camping ban and I just scheduled a meeting to review it. This (homelessness) is a huge complex problem. I’m telling you right now, I don’t have the answers to these issues. I wish I did. Nobody has the answers to it. It’s multi-dimensional and it’s going to take really smart people that are compassionate to impact these problems. I try to tell as many people as possible, on all of these social issues that we have, you have to come from a place of compassion. And if you do that and you’re working with people that care about the community, I think you can come up with really good resolutions that help.
BW: Officer morale has also been a concern. What are your plans to address that?
MH: Policing for the last decade has been under a lot of scrutiny and media attention and there’s been conflict with the community for a long time. It’s not just a Boulder concern, I think it’s across the country. And I think that just like the community morale can always improve, I hope I can improve morale in the police department. I think the way to do that is again, providing clear vision and increasing training opportunities. At the end of the day, the officers have to trust me as a leader — that I’m going to do the right thing for the right reasons.
BW: What’s your take on the use of emerging technology, like facial recognition software, in law enforcement?
MH: I would have to know a lot more about facial recognition. At the University (of Cincinnati), we had a lot of companies that tried to try to get us to buy into that. It wasn’t the direction I wanted to go to at the University, but again, I need a lot more information on this part of the country. It wouldn’t be fair to give an assessment right now.
But speaking of technology, my big push will to be to use technology to ensure that we understand our own data sources and to bring all that data together so we can make informed decisions. Policing generates a ton of data on a daily basis, think about calls for service, use of force, citizen’s complaints. Is it all coming into the same location and are you making decisions based on data or are you just making decisions from your gut? In other words, how you respond to emerging issues and strategies. That’s a big part of any innovative policing strategies to make sure your decisions are based on data.
BW: Anything else the people of Boulder should know about your vision for the department?
MH: No, but if you please relay to your readers that I am just so excited to be here. Boulder is internationally known for being a wonderful city and I’m really honored to be a part of it.