They say journalism is the first draft of history. In the 1990s, oceans of newspaper ink were spilled over a spate of officer-involved shootings in Boise that, by the turn of the 21st century, had left the Boise Police Department and City Hall in the PR doghouse.
At the time, news reports centered on the shootings—which at their height left about half a dozen citizens and one officer dead during a 19-month period—as well as the investigations they prompted. Outrage ran high—particularly when scandal surrounding then-Mayor Brent Coles took down his administration. When current Mayor Davie Bieter was sworn in in 2003, one of his first actions was to ask for the then-Boise police chief to resign.
A lot has transpired over the past 2 decades—and even since 2014—as the Boise Police Department has evolved to approach its job in ways unheard of during the dark days of the '90s. Community policing, veterans and refugee outreach, and a much improved stance toward local media have rehabilitated relations between BPD and the population it serves.
While news stories of the past century formed the first draft of that period in the department's history, a new draft has been written by Boise State University Historian Fellow Chelsee Boehm. Her oral history, Community as Constant, draws on numerous interviews with the officers, public officials, citizens and journalists who were most intimately involved in the events surrounding BPD from 1990-2014.
Now owned by the Boise City Department of Arts and History, the document provides an unprecedented look at how the department viewed and managed the events that so greatly affected its public face and how those lessons have informed the BPD of today.
While Boise Weekly News Editor George Prentice was among the journalists interviewed for the project, Boehm offered BW the opportunity to profile her work and excerpt a few key statements from her other subjects.