Westminster PD tries to build transparency and trust


During a Westminster City Council study session discussion on March 15 about a Westminster Police Department community survey that received a 14 percent response rate, Police Chief Tim Carlson assured the council the department is engaging the community.

Three days later, the department held a press conference about Asian American violence and when asked how the department is engaging the Asian American community, Carlson responded, “What we’re doing right now.”

Carlson’s responses at both events tried to show how invested the department is. The department is doing a multitude of things to have a dialogue with the community in this moment of nationwide mobilization towards more police accountability and Carlson and his team say community outreach has been one of their top priorities since 2019.

Around October 2019, the department began hosting a variety of community meetings. Some are information sessions that touch on topics like hiring or body-worn cameras. Department officials will present for the first half and then answer audience member questions for the second half. The department also hosts meetings after critical incidents, like a shooting, with the residents of the neighborhood where the shooting occurred.

The meetings aim, “to take away some of the mystery of law enforcement and identify how they can be a positive influence in the community to protect themselves and their neighborhood,” said Trevor Materasso, a public information officer sergeant. More than 50 community meetings have occurred since 2019, said Ray Esslinger, a public information officer for the department.

Also, in 2019, Carlson established the Chief’s Community Advisory Panel (CCAP), a group of residents, business owners and other community members who offer Carlson input about police department policies and practices. It’s similar to the recently formed community co-production policing advisory board in Northglenn and the police & community team (PaCT) in Thornton. Though, Materasso clarified, the CCAP is less of an oversight board.

The community meetings and CCAP show, “We’re off to a good start,” Esslinger said. At the same time, he added, “Let’s say there’s a lot of work to still be done.”

Both Esslinger and Materasso acknowledged the community survey, conducted last summer by the National Research Center (NRC), fell short of its intended goals. The survey was sent to 3,000 residents and it only received 417 responses. Eighty-seven percent of respondents were white, and 83 percent did not identify as Hispanic or Latino. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 67 percent of Westminster identifies as white alone, not Hispanic or Latino.

National Research Center offered a Spanish version of the survey, but Materasso said there were no responses to it. When he learned that, Materasso said, “I was very discouraged and disappointed.”

The department received high scores in the “public trust” category that assesses if the department is protecting individual rights, is trustworthy, acting in the best interest of the community and treating all residents fairly, said Michelle Kobayashi of NRC at the March 15 city council study session. Westminster PD’s score is higher than the national average that NRC found in its 2020 national survey, Kobayashi said.

Materasso said he doesn’t believe the department’s public trust score would be different if there were more non-white respondents, based on other anecdotal evidence, such as questions, complaints and compliments.

Materasso said the department has taken other steps to engage minority groups in town. Asian American and Latino officers have spent concerted time with residents and local organizations representing those minority communities.

Still, Materasso said he and the department’s leadership understand there’s a long road ahead to building, “Trust, transparency and partnership. We can’t be an effective police organization if we don’t have the trust of the community and their partnership.”