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Vail Symposium seeks to get the facts straight on police reform

What to expect from panel discussion on policing and police reform in America

People march through the streets of Vail Village during a Black Lives Matter protest on Wednesday, June 3, 2020.
Chris Dillmann/cdillmann@vaildaily.com

An irrefutable call for police reform began last summer following nationwide protests in the wake of several widely publicized deaths in police custody. What exactly police reform entails and how it will be achieved, however, is still up for debate.

On Thursday, March 11 at 6 p.m., Vail Symposium is hosting a panel of experts, including Vail Police Chief Dwight Henninger, Rafael Mangual of the Manhattan Institute, Vikrant Reddy of the Koch Institute and Perry Tarrant, the former President of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, to virtually discuss police reform and the future of policing in America. Colorado Public Radio justice reporter Allison Sherry will moderate the panel.

“Following the protests of 2020, police reform measures are being considered in legislatures across the country,” said Vail Symposium programming director Claire Noble. “A legitimate concern is whether these measures are driven by data or politics. Everyone wants to live in a safe community, but what are the best ways to foster that environment? This program aims to strip away the politics and focus on the facts.”



This focus on politics rather than facts is something panelist Mangual, deputy director of legal policy at the Manhattan Institute, hopes to discuss in Thursday’s conversation. “The tenor of the debate has placed high social pressure on people to act with sub-standard information,” he said. “I hope to help people understand the true scope of the problem.”

The panel will aim to discuss not only the facts of police reform, but a variety of topics surrounding the subject. Those topics include the merits of the George Floyd Justice Policing Act, which has passed the U.S. House of Representatives and awaits Senate approval; why recently released data shows a spike in crime across large U.S. cities; whether law enforcement is being asked to do too much when it comes to dealing with mental health; addiction and other social problems; what policing should look like in the future and more.



“This conversation needs to be had in every community nationwide so everyone understands what their expectations are of the police. It’s something that might help resolve some of the issues just due to a lack of understanding of each other’s perspectives,” Henninger said.

Bringing this national debate to communities is something that Mangual agrees with.

“Things like policing and criminal justice policy, more generally, really need to reflect the idiosyncratic realities of whatever jurisdictions we’re thinking about. So I don’t think it’s particularly healthy to make national scale claims about what policing should look like,” Mangual said. “I think what policing should look like in Vail is different from what policing should look like in a place like Chicago. Having these debates on broad jurisdictional terms doesn’t lend itself to the kind of focus on policy that is best for the communities.”

Building safety and trust in Eagle County

For Henninger, Eagle County is on the right track for the future. “I actually believe we are doing a really great job here,” he said. This, he believes, is partially due to both long-standing and newer programs meant to build trust between citizens or guests and officers.

This includes the department’s implementation of a program to improve police response to mental illness cases to address the lack of mental health facilities and improve officers’ interactions with those affected by mental illness. He also cited the launch of the Eagle County Law Enforcement Immigrant Alliance to build trust and collaboration with the county’s immigrant community, the appointment of Sergeant Chris Botkins as the department’s Community Liaison Sergeant once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, and the long-standing Police Explorer program, which gives high school students interested in law enforcement access to the department.

In terms of specific police reform policies, Henninger said the Vail Police Department will continue to evaluate the use of force policies and no-knock warrants, maintain accountability for taking care of “problem employees,” including the use of the national database to track officers fired from other departments, and continually evaluate the department’s leadership and culture for any problems.

Join the conversation

What: Domestic Dispute: Policing and Police Reform in America

When: Thursday, March 11, 6-7 p.m.

Register: This is a virtual event.Visit vailsymposium.org/


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