Breckenridge, Colorado

Striking at Balance Between Progressivism and Public safety in Boulder

By Sean Maher, CEO

Last summer, I wrote a column about the increasing crime and dangerous behavior on Pearl Street and throughout Boulder. Fast forward nine months, and things have not improved. If anything, they seem to be getting worse. As I talk to my friends who run businesses, they tell me that dealing with shoplifting, vandalism and open drug use have become routine for those who live or work downtown.

Two weeks ago, the situation escalated when The Little Jewel on the Pearl Street Mall was robbed on a Tuesday afternoon. Four kids felt bold enough to carry out a violent crime in the middle of the day in one of  the busiest spots in Boulder. They terrified a female employee, smashed display cases and made off with around $200,000 worth of jewelry.

Some people in Boulder shrug their shoulders and say this is just part of life in a modern and progressive city. They seem resigned to follow Portland and San Francisco down the path toward accepting a new normal of high crime and unsafe public spaces.

In a community that prides itself on being smart and innovative, it is shocking how many people seem willing to accept the same tired policies that have repeatedly failed so miserably in other places. There are alternatives, and I do not believe that public safety and progressive values have to be mutually exclusive.

A great example is a city in California that is far away from San Francisco. Palm Springs, like Boulder, is smart, progressive and compassionate. And, like Boulder, they have a significant homeless population. The city is currently building a $40 million homeless navigation center that will include overnight beds, a day shelter and wrap-around services to provide access to housing, rehab and mental health treatment. The city is committed to helping people get their lives back on track.

But unlike Boulder, Palm Springs has not forgotten to balance compassion for the homeless with public safety for everyone. City residents and leaders in Palm Springs understand that enforcing laws in a civil society is not cruel or discriminatory.

The politically liberal City Council in Palm Springs has not hired a police monitor. They have not created a police oversight panel, and they do not inherently view their police officers with suspicion. They hired a smart, progressive chief, and, instead of creating barriers, they trust him to do his job.

In return, Chief Andy Mills has delivered firm but fair enforcement for all residents of the community. The city’s public spaces are safe and clean. And no one is complaining.

Back in Boulder, we also have a smart and progressive interim chief in Steve Redfearn. Unfortunately (and not surprisingly), he is being attacked with baseless accusations by anti-police activists. Their charges of misconduct during his time in Aurora have been completely debunked, and I hope the city manager names him as the permanent chief sooner than later.

In addition, the City Council should dismantle the police oversight panel. While it was no doubt created with good intentions, it has been completely dysfunctional. The group has not delivered thoughtful oversight but has created a lot of internal drama and political chaos. It has proven to be a failed experiment that should be ended.

Instead of creating new barriers for Chief Redfearn and his officers, council should support him and give him the tools, flexibility and mandate he needs to enforce the laws and foster public safety in our community.

If Boulder wants to follow the lead of a progressive city in California in dealing with crime, we would be much better off looking at the example in Palm Springs than following San Francisco. This liberal and compassionate community in the desert has shown that public safety and progressive values are not mutually exclusive. I have no doubt we are smart enough to find that balance in Boulder, too.

Sean Maher can be reached at

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