The commission's ability to get police officers to cooperate has worsened significantly over the past year. The commission's "Do the Right Thing" campaign--in which it issued pamphlets and posters urging people to come forward with complaints--was viewed by police as an effort to solicit unwarranted criticism. And when, during a commission meeting, the board aired the name of an officer who'd been complained about (officers' identities are supposed to remain confidential), the PPA demanded that the entire board resign.
Top police officials have given tacit approval to such protests; the department no longer sends representatives to the commission meetings, and in one incident, department officials shredded an investigative file, preventing the commission from reviewing a complaint.
Officials also have stood by without comment when the PPA has urged noncooperation, which is what prompted the present showdown over the commission's subpoena power. This past spring the panel was reviewing a complaint by Denver gang leader Michael Asberry, who alleges that several Denver officers illegally tried to enter his house without a search warrant. But the commissioners were stymied when the officers, even those who were merely witnesses, declined to release the statements they'd given to internal investigators. Finally, in August, the commission for the first time issued subpoenas to three officers. The PPA took the issue to court, claiming that officers are exempt from the commission's subpoenas.
The fight is taking its toll on the five remaining commissioners, a politically and racially diverse group of community activists, all of whom volunteer their time. The judge's decision in this case--as well as Webb's reaction to it--may determine whether they are willing to keep working on what could be a lost cause.
If the judge comes down on the side of the PPA, Benavidez says, the mayor's support (and that of the city council) on their behalf is crucial. "Absent that," she says, "it would be tough to convince some of us to continue to do work for free with no apparent reason.