LOVELAND, Colo. — The results of an independent assessment of the Loveland Police Department, prompted by the violent arrest of a 73-year-old woman with dementia in 2020, will be presented to Loveland City Council on Tuesday evening.
The incident happened in June 2020, when Karen Garner, 73, forgot to pay for a soda and laundry detergent at a Loveland Walmart. Police were called to a report of shoplifting, and confronted Garner as she was walking home. Officers arrested her, and in the process, broke her arm and dislocated her shoulder.
Garner's family settled a lawsuit with the City of Loveland for $3 million last year, and the money is in a trust now.
“Karen Garner, we messed up. I mean, any human being watching that video knows that was mishandled on many, many levels from beginning to end. So, you know, we don't get better if we hide," said the Loveland Mayor Jacki Marsh.
The encounter, seen on body-camera video, prompted investigations into the police department. It also sparked an independent review of the department, completed by the Jensen Hughes Company. The report was not specifically focused on Garner's arrest, but on the department as a whole.
Loveland City Council will hear the results of the independent assessment on Tuesday. The review said staffing shortages at the Loveland Police Department are leading to fatigue and frustration, and the data-driven approach focused on the number of arrests and citations has hurt the quality of policing.
“It's a roadmap to how we can do better, but it's also a pretty damning report of where we are today," Mayor Marsh said.
The report suggests revising the Loveland Police Department mission statement, which is "Save Lives, Fight Crime, Survive." It also said there are communication issues within the department that are creating a degree of mistrust with leadership.
Other findings listed by the report said many people in the Loveland community have had positive interactions with police, and that the department is committed to expanding their Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training to all staff. The assessment did not find a meaningful communication strategy to increase transparency and create trust in the community.
The review said the department, with a data-driven police model, has officers focusing more on numbers than on quality policing. It states the approach does not encourage resolving situations without an arrest or citation.
"It makes great sense that you would analyze the crime areas of Loveland, and you would focus your resources. It's a system that takes your vehicle crashes, and your crime, and kind of overlaps them and says, we're going to send more police to that area of town. Makes perfect sense, except perhaps our implementation got skewed," Mayor Marsh said. “There's clearly an expectation that patrol officers will have 10 engagements a day that result in arrest or citations. So, that is putting pressure on our officers to respond to calls that are likely going to lead to an arrest or citation. And it is the opposite of wanting to de-escalate."
After reading through the report, the mayor said it appeared the third-party company was being as "tactful" as they could, but were "offended" by what they found. She would like to see more training on de-escalation, recognizing people with mental health issues, and rewards for officers when interactions result in positive outcomes where everyone goes home better than they started.
“Take the Karen Garner case. An officer is called out for shoplifting, and it would be hard not to think that, in their mind, that's going to be one of my 10. That's an arrest or a citation. So, that is your mentality going out, and the inability to switch and to see a human being that clearly has some dementia or mental health issues, and shift gears," Mayor Marsh said.
The mayor said she believes information about the police department is purposefully withheld from her as well.
“I believe that information is kept from me. I believe that it's intentional. That if they think that I will not agree, I think that they manage me by limiting my information," Mayor Marsh said.
One of the findings in the report states the Loveland Police Department's use of force policy aligns with best practices, in many respects. However, it needs a stronger emphasis on the "sanctity of all human life."
“The focus has gotten misplaced. And to hear that we don't value the sanctity of life is jarring. I mean, it's shocking. It makes you take a step back. How could any human being not value the sanctity of life? That's isn't something you expect to have to train anybody on, especially somebody in public service," Mayor Marsh said.
It's a phrase that also caught the eye of Garner's attorney, Sarah Schielke.
“The Loveland Police Department — these are people that the community is trusted to walk around with guns, and we've given them authorization to basically kill at their own discretion. And here's a report, an in-depth report, offering a finding saying that they need more training on valuing the sanctity of human life," said Schielke. “That, to me, is just such a catastrophic cultural problem within a police department and something that I don't think that any leadership, their existing leadership, should be able to avoid."
Schielke does not believe the recommendations in the report go far enough to combat the problems she sees in the Loveland Police Department.
“Police officers tend to think that they get to give themselves different treatment than everybody else. And if they want to repair the rift with the community, that's the first thing that needs to be dealt with," Schielke said.
The two former officers involved in Garner's arrest are no longer with the department, but the police chief has not said if they were fired or resigned.
“So long as you have police officers and former police officers reviewing the work of other police officers, we're not accomplishing anything. There needs to be broader sharing of the data and exposure on whatever is being reviewed," said Schielke.
Denver7 reached out to the Loveland Police Department for a response to the report. At the time, they said all of their resources were tied up, and that they would send over a statement when possible.