BLM Protest

Boise police officers walk past a group of counterprotesters facing off against a Black Lives Matter Boise group in front of Boise City Hall, Tuesday, July 21, 2020. Police set up barricades before the demonstrations began.

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BOISE — The Boise Police Department currently doesn’t have a set policy governing how it responds to civil disturbances and protests.

Department spokeswoman Haley Williams wrote in an email that the department does “not have a specific policy for these topics but we are working on one.”

The development comes after multiple protests and counterprotests in downtown Boise in the wake of George Floyd’s death, and department officials have said they have anticipated the possibility the city could see more protests in the future.

Police policies offer guidance for officers in any given situation. In the case of a civil disturbance policy, that means the policy “provides guidance for things that are likely to happen in a crowd situation,” Tamara Herold, Ph.D., who teaches criminal justice at the University of Las Vegas, said in a phone interview Monday. Herold serves as the director of the Crowd Management Research Council.

The goal of such a policy, Herold said, is to help police take the tactics they would normally use in a one-on-one situation and apply them to a crowd scenario. The example she cited was the execution of mass arrests, which would play out differently than a single arrest. A set civil disturbance policy would provide guidelines for officers in that situation.

While it’s common for police departments in major cities to have civil disturbance policies, Herold said it’s rare for law enforcement agencies in small or even mid-sized metropolitan areas to have one in place, especially if the city hasn’t experienced large-scale protests before. And, she pointed out, even if a department doesn’t have a civil disturbance policy, officers at a protest would still be operating under other department policies in how they interacted with people.

Recent protests in Boise this summer in the wake of George Floyd’s death have garnered local attention and made headlines. Natalie Camacho Mendoza, director of the Boise Office of Police Oversight, pointed out Boise has seen protests and demonstrations in its history before.

“There’s been various types of protests and rallies over the years and Boise has not implemented a policy,” Camacho Mendoza said Monday.

In an email Tuesday, Williams wrote the policy isn't solely a response to this summer's protests.

"I would say it has been under review for at least a year," she wrote. 

The Boise Police Department’s response to the summer’s protests in the city appears to have varied from protest to protest. Boise police officers — working with the Idaho State Police — largely didn’t intervene during protests at the Idaho Statehouse in early June. Those protests remained nonviolent, if heated. During a June 30 protest at Boise City Hall, though, some fights did break out between a small group of protesters from the organization Black Lives Matter Boise, who were scheduled to hold a “defund the police” rally, and a much larger group of counterprotesters. The two groups mingled on the steps of city hall, and police didn’t physically separate them until the demonstrations were already underway.

All that is in stark contrast to the department’s response to protests on July 21 at Boise City Hall, where barriers had been set up beforehand to manage crowds, and police stepped into tense situations long before they could have become physical.

While Camacho Mendoza works for the city, her office is separate from the police department and she is not a law enforcement officer. Part of her job is to talk with the Boise Police Department’s leadership about policy and best practices, as she did when the department decided to suspend the use of lateral vascular neck restraints in June. She said on Monday Boise Police Department officials haven’t yet spoken with her about the possible civil disturbance policy, but it’s not unusual for the department to draft policy and then ask her to review it.

Though department officials weigh her opinion, she doesn’t have the final say on what department policy is; that decision is up to the department’s leadership and doesn’t require the approval of an outside body, such as the Boise City Council, she said.

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