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Independent Monitor Richard Rosenthal keeps a close eye on the Denver police

Richard Rosenthal is busy, as usual. "It's been an interesting day," Denver's Independent Monitor quips to the TV crew setting up in his office conference room, high up on the twelfth floor of the Wellington E. Webb Municipal Office Building. Rosenthal has spent much of the day interviewing potential deputy monitors, trying to fill a vacancy and plug gaps in a staff that's long been overworked and underfunded. And while it's nearly 5 p.m., the day is far from over: The man in charge of policing the police plans to spend much of his evening poring over files at the Denver Police Department's Internal Affairs Bureau, looking into the evidence behind recent disciplinary decisions. And his BlackBerry might go off at any moment: Whenever there's an officer-involved shooting, an in-custody death or other critical incident, Rosenthal immediately rolls to the scene, day or night.

Right now, though, there's this television interview, pegged to the release of Rosenthal's quarterly report on disciplinary actions involving the Denver police and sheriff's departments. The report highlights two incidents over the past few months in which Rosenthal believes the officers involved should have faced stiffer punishment; it's one of the harshest reports he's released during his six and a half years on the job. And while, as the city's civilian police monitor, Rosenthal doesn't have the authority to change discipline decisions, he does have the ability to speak out against them when he sees fit — which explains the cameras zeroing in on him.

"Don't do a close-up," says Rosenthal as he clips a microphone to his shirt. "Close-ups make me look like crap." But Rosenthal looks to be in a perennial state of dishevelment — tie wrinkled, jacket rumpled, hair tousled — and resembles the harried Los Angeles County deputy district attorney he was in the 1990s more than he does one of Denver's top officials. The look mirrors his no-BS, take-no-prisoners attitude, an attitude that's easier when you're not politically beholden to anyone.

And once the interview begins, it doesn't take long for the subject to shift from the quarterly report to the controversy that's exploded over the past year. "What is the perception of the Denver Police Department?" the TV reporter asks Rosenthal. In recent months, account after account of police misconduct and brutality has rocked the city's 1,400-officer department. Just a few days earlier, Denver City Council had approved a $795,000 settlement for Alex Landau, a Community College of Denver student who'd accused the cops who pulled him over in 2009 for an illegal left turn of beating him bloody with flashlights and a police radio ("Wrong Arm of the Law," January 20). It was one of the largest police-brutality settlements in the city's history, perhaps reflecting the fact that two of the three officers involved in the Landau incident were recently fired over two other high-profile cases of alleged police misconduct.

Through the window behind Rosenthal, downtown Denver stretches out in the serene, late-afternoon sunlight. But judging from recent headlines, the city is anything but tranquil these days: cops on the rampage, protesters demanding justice, heads rolling in City Hall. Can Rosenthal explain what's going on?

Denver doesn't have a bad police department, he says. Quite the contrary, he continues: "The reason we see these stories is because we have a good police department, a good, transparent process, so the public can see the good, the bad and the ugly.... In Denver, we have one of the most progressive civilian oversight programs in the country."

"If we don't have a bad system," the reporter replies, "can you provide any insight as to why our two remaining mayoral candidates are so hell-bent on getting rid of the chief of police and creating structural change?"

"My office does not get involved in politics," Rosenthal responds.

But that doesn't mean that politics doesn't get involved in his office. Public-safety problems have become a major issue for mayoral candidates Chris Romer and Michael Hancock, and some of the scrutiny has focused on the Office of the Independent Monitor. There will be more attention coming Rosenthal's way next month, when the Denver Auditor's Office releases a fast-tracked audit of Rosenthal's office.

It's about time somebody looked into Rosenthal's performance, say his critics — a population that includes police officers and police-accountability activists alike. Then again, having people on both sides fuming — and the entirety of the Denver Police Department's administration declining to comment for this story — may indicate that he's doing the job fairly.

At one point, when the camera's off, Rosenthal mentions that in Los Angeles, he carried a firearm for a while because of death threats he'd received because he was prosecuting gang members.

"Do you get death threats here?" asks the reporter.

"No," says Rosenthal, with a laugh. "Not that all people adore me, but I'm good."

******

Guys," Rosenthal says sternly to the dozen or so University of Colorado Denver students facing him, "all grades are off if you don't take a cupcake." It's the final class of Rosenthal's Crime and Literature spring-semester course, and if they don't eat the goodies he brought for the occasion, he's going to have to take the leftovers home — and the last thing Rosenthal's two hyperactive sons need is more sugar. (His personal cell phone — separate from his work BlackBerry — is always going off with reports of kids getting their fingers Superglued together or needing to go to the doctor.)

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8 comments
KST
KST

Rosenthal says Denver has a good police department but all he talks about in interviews isa few cases that have been sensationalized. Why doesn't he discuss the statistics from his Annual Report 2010? In the report he says, "It is important to note that only a small proportion of citizen-police contacts in 2010 resulted in a citizen complaint. For example, Denver Police officers responded to 465,511 calls for service in 2010. In the same time period, the DPD received 601 citizen complaints against its officers, which amounts to a conservative estimate of roughly one complaint for ever 775 calls for service (or .013%)"

He goes on to say, "Only a relatively small proportion of DPD officers had one complaint sustained in 2010 (5.3%) and no officers had more than two complaints sustained in one year."

This information is on the OIM website but it is not well publisized. If Rosenthal really wantstransparancy and believes DPD is a good department why doesn't he use these statitistics in his interview and tell people to read the entrie report on the OIM website?

KST

Ray Denonville
Ray Denonville

The Denver Police Union P.P.A. wants Rosenthal fired. A Denver Copwatch member I spoke with wants Rosenthal fired; something about L.A.P.D. If the P.P.A. and Denver Copwatch both want Rosenthal fired he must be doing something right.

Garygoode
Garygoode

As an employee of several large industries, all of which were unionized, an oversite department is always needed. To those that are caught, they hate the system, those who remain unscathed, no issues.

Videos are everywhere in our society now; most of the complaints about the Denver Police beating the citizens have been followed with some "interesting" video evidence. Generally, when there is no video, the case goes away without a conviction or reprimand.

Times have changed, now the police unions are fighting the system by confronting only the enforcers, not the videos, not the evidence, nor the complaints.

Remember the banking meltdown of 2008? The banking and financial enforcement agency went for years trying to regulate themselves only to become the advocates of a bad system.

Let the unions run the show and we all will pay.

Grab your camera and hit the streets.

Darthurwhittle
Darthurwhittle

Rosenthal keeping an eye on Denver cops----but not too close------------------

AnyBodyButObama 2012
AnyBodyButObama 2012

Denver "Doesn't have a bad Police Department..."? This is who saying this? I'm sure the rash of bad cops over the last few years is just an "Accident"! And those are only the ones that got caught, what is the percentage that hasn't?

Kenneth Westervelt
Kenneth Westervelt

West Denver Copwatch has no love for the man. I don't really have a dog in the fight, as I've never had problems like this when I ran into police in the past.

Fds3
Fds3

It is real easy to blame the police and the sherriff's for all the problems but Mr Rosenthal you couldn't do there job and you have no clue of the type of people they deal with. I think that you should think about this thought.

Boyhood
Boyhood

Rosenthal needs to go trust me....

 
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