Admitting the city needs to “step up our game” in diversifying its workforce and community outreach, Mayor John Suthers recently expanded the one-person Community Diversity and Outreach Division of Human Resources to two.

Danielle Summerville, community diversity & outreach programs manager, started Oct. 12 at $112,000 a year, and will focus on the community, while the senior employee, Myra Romero, will spend her time on internal diversity matters.

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“We’ve had a diversity officer all along,” Suthers says in an interview, “but we need to step up our game in that regard, in light of social developments and in light of the general goal that our city’s had for years, to recruit a workforce that reflects the demographic of the community. I think we need to do a better job of that.”

Specifically, he adds, police recruiting is “very difficult right now,” given the unrest spawned by police officer-involved shootings of Black people here and in cities across the country.

But Suthers says the city also needs to kick it up a notch in hiring civilian minorities as well.

Summerville will focus on community outreach, interfacing with the Law Enforcement Transparency and Accountability Commission, formed by city council in September, and on “working hard to promote the city as an employer.”

The LETAC is unprecedented in Colorado Springs and arose from protests this summer after George Floyd died in police custody in Minneapolis. Other high-profile shootings of Black people by police, notably the death of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, and serious wounding of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, set off a firestorm of demands for a range of solutions — from defunding police departments to enhanced racial and cultural training for officers.

Locally, protests continue over the Aug. 5, 2019, death of De’Von Bailey, a 19-year-old Black man who was killed by Colorado Springs officers after being stopped for questioning about an armed robbery and darted away from officers. He was shot while carrying a gun in his pocket, but a grand jury later ruled the officers’ actions were justified.

Council fielded more than 800 applications for the 11 slots and two alternate positions on the LETAC, which includes former police, educators, community members and the widow of a slain officer.

But the panel, which staged its first meeting Oct. 5, has no independent authority and can only recommend actions to council, conduct studies and research, assist with suggestions for resource allocation, serve as a conduit to share citizen and police department concerns, discuss and provide feedback on policy changes, and promote understanding and relationships between police and the public.

Chosen from a field of 269 applicants, Summerville served Big Brothers Big Sisters Pikes Peak for 19 years, 10 years as executive director. During that time, she developed board and donor stewardship, built community partnerships, recruited volunteers and created and implemented multiple new programs.

Named a “Woman of Influence” by the Colorado Springs Business Journal in 2017, Summerville received Leadership Pikes Peak’s “Modeling the Way Community Leadership Award” in 2016 and the Colorado Springs Alumnae Chapter Delta Sigma Theta Sorority’s “Hats Off” award in 2014.

Summerville shed some light on how she will tackle her duties with the city.

How will you go about recruiting people of color for police and fire openings? 

This position will work with [Colorado Springs Fire Department] and [Colorado Springs Police Department] to enhance recruiting efforts through community outreach, partnerships and relationship development. It is important to note that CSPD goes through exhaustive efforts to hire the best candidates for police officer positions. The hiring process, training academy, field training and a career in law enforcement requires constant support from family members. If the families are not supportive of this profession, we will never receive the applicants we need.

One of the areas I will address is gaining the support of family members during a challenging time throughout our nation. Public service, fire and policing are honorable professions. I will work with our minority communities to address the barriers and stigmas to pursuing such professions and relay the feedback to CSFD, CSPD and other officials. Breaking down the barriers and stigmas through open communication will enrich CSFD and CSPD’s recruiting efforts. 

What makes you uniquely qualified to fulfill this new role in the city?

I have 19 years of experience building relationships/partnerships with families, volunteers, nonprofits, businesses and community partners to support one-to-one mentoring efforts here in El Paso County. Families and volunteers of varying ages, backgrounds, socioeconomic status and cultures shared their stories with me. Each story included hopes and aspirations for the future. I carry these stories — including the hopes and aspirations — with me to this day. 

I will use my skill set to create pathways and opportunities to engage diverse members of the community in meaningful and measurable ways through program design, implementation and evaluation. I will rely on existing relationships/partnerships, while setting the foundation for new ones to be created throughout.

What other steps will you take to create greater inclusion of minority populations in city affairs?

I will work closely with each city department to learn what opportunities currently exist for community engagement. For example, CSPD already has a Community Academy (which has been put on hold due to COVID-19). Could we replicate similar experiences in other departments? This is a question that I will be better equipped to answer once I have an opportunity to engage with each department. 

How will you measure your success? Attendance at meetings? Increased minority hires? Are there targets that you’ve been given to meet?

Attendance at meetings will be one form of measurement. Once I settle into the position other goals and measurements will be established. 

In what areas do you see the city in most need of participation/interface with minorities and people of color groups and communities and how will you engage with them?

The city of Colorado Springs has several boards and commissions which seek volunteer applicants. I plan to share and encourage minority members to apply for these opportunities. It would be great to have a high number of applicants for all boards and commissions, similar to what we saw for the 13-person Law Enforcement Transparency and Accountability Commission. 

Through a series of conversations with community members, I hope to learn what areas of city government they are most interested in learning about. Community member interest will help create pathways. 

Why is it important to strengthen the city’s engagement with diverse populations, and do you see these diverse populations as going beyond people of color? If so, what other populations will you reach out to for greater engagement?

Communities are stronger and better when they welcome, recognize and engage all of their members. Diversity opens the door for rich cultural experiences. Acceptance of our diversity makes us wiser and equips us for future success. 

Yes, diverse populations go well beyond people of color, but our starting point will be working with communities of color.

Reporter

Pam Zubeck is a graduate from Emporia State University. She worked at the Tulsa Tribune before coming to Colorado Springs, where she spent 16 years at the Gazette and in 2009 joined Colorado Publishing House.