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BRIGHTON, Colo. (KDVR) — The Brighton police chief says training is an “extremely high priority” after three chases ended in crashes in 2021, but getting it scheduled can be challenging.

“One of the things that is a concern, and it’s a concern for police departments around the country, is the amount of time versus the workload,” Chief Paul Southard said. “In order to conduct training, you have to take officers off the street, and you have to schedule around that, which makes it difficult.”

The department’s own internal affairs investigations found policy violations in all three police chases that resulted in crashes.

After the first deadly incident in September, a professional standards commander who reviewed the incident said, “We must take extra care to improve training and accountability regarding pursuits.”

“We’re going to continue what we have been doing with training,” Southard said, referencing the written daily training bulletins that officers must read. “We’re going to work at it. We’re going to find new technology for training,” he said.

When asked what Southard has done to look at what processes led officers to violate current policies, he said, “People are people, and people make mistakes, and I think in this situation, someone made a mistake. Unfortunately, it happened, and unfortunately, people were killed. We can’t predict the future, and we don’t know how it’s going to turn out, what’s going to happen. If we could all do that, we wouldn’t need police departments.”

Council members discuss public safety committee

At Tuesday night’s Brighton City Council meeting, city councilors praised the police department while discussing the idea of developing a public safety committee.

“We are now looking forward because of your report,” said Matt Johnston, a city councilor who lives in the neighborhood where the most recent deadly crash occurred.

Johnston said this is the “first part of a long-term discussion,” and that he would like to see the police department and the public involved in the committee.

Some council members said they did not want the committee to be an oversight committee that involved civilians, but they did see value in improving communications with the public.

“It’s a very, very difficult job, and officers are placed in situations where they’re made to make split-second decisions, and sometimes they make bad decisions,” said Clint Blackhurst, a council member. “The more open communications you have with the public, the better, and if this can facilitate that, then I’m all for it,” he said.

“We’re not looking at an audit committee of amateurs for the police department,” said council member Peter Padilla. He said he did not want the committee to be a knee-jerk reaction to something that getting a lot of attention, he said, calling the police department “excellent.”

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Jan Pawlowski said she thought the committee could involve “a broad spectrum of brains” that “could sit down and spell out maybe what are important steps to take,” she said. She said she did not want criminals to think they could come to Brighton and the police department would not do anything about it.

“We definitely want to reduce the need to pursue,” Mayor Pro Tem Adam Cushing said. “I think everybody would agree with that. I could see a public safety committee serving as a bridge to council.”

Mary Ellen Pollack said she felt police officers have too many constantly changing policies.

“Set all policies you damn want. Waste all the time you want,” she said. “It’s not going to change the situation when it happens because unless you’ve been in it, you don’t know. Yes, innocent people died. Innocent people die every day,” she said, explaining that people are killed by drunk drivers and other causes. “Quit harassing our officers. They have it hard enough as it is,” she said.

Councilmember Ann Taddeo said she is not convinced that a public safety committee is an appropriate response to what has happened. However, she said she is also “open-minded to hearing more about it.”

The council plans to continue their discussion at a future study session.