That sentiment was spreading through the country. "In the wake of the Rodney King incident, which was played around the world, it validated for the first time on videotape that the police engaged at times in brutal tactics," says Merrick Bobb, director of the Los Angeles-based Police Assessment Resource Center. "It was shocking, from the President of the United States on down." If the cops weren't capable of policing themselves, then independent oversight agencies would have to break through the thick blue wall. So in the 1990s, cities such as Pittsburgh, Phoenix, Miami and Los Angeles set up police monitoring systems. And now Portland was replacing its volunteer-based Police Internal Investigations Audit Committee (a group the cops had reportedly nicknamed the Poorly Informed Ignorant Asshole Committee) with a more robust Independent Police Review Division, which had the ability to take police-misconduct complaints, monitor internal investigations and recommend policy changes.

Rosenthal arrived in Portland at a time when that city's police department was roiling with problems of its own. Cops were shooting suspects at a rate of one per month, and a spate of high-profile deaths had the public up in arms. The situation was so bad that citizens had put an initiative on the ballot to take all internal misconduct cases out of the police department's hands for good and put them under the authority of an independent investigator.

While that initiative failed, Rosenthal took it as a sign that he had his work cut out for him. As police auditor and head of the Independent Police Review Commission, he developed a mediation program so that citizens and officers in minor disputes could work out their differences. He created a complaint-management system so that grievances without merit could be dealt with quickly, and those that were valid could receive more attention and resources. And he commissioned Bobb's Police Assessment Resource Center to conduct an extensive review of shootings by officers and in-custody deaths. After the city implemented many of the recommendations in PARC's final report, suspect shootings dropped to one or two a year, reports former Portland city auditor Gary Blackmer, Rosenthal's boss.

Along the way, Rosenthal made a few enemies: In 2003, five members of the eight-member Citizen Review Committee, which collected citizen feedback and reviewed the functions of his office, resigned en masse because they said Rosenthal and his staff stifled public input. Rosenthal had his own concerns about the system. He didn't like that he had no ability to monitor use-of-deadly-force investigations until after the fact; to fully scrutinize the way a police department handled internal investigations, he needed access to the most difficult inquiries of all.

That's what he told the Denver city attorney who called in 2004, said Denver was setting up a similar program and asked Rosenthal what had worked in Portland. And then, when he discovered that Denver's Independent Monitor program seemed to follow his advice word for word — "They had taken the good, gotten rid of the bad and prettied up the ugly," Rosenthal notes — he put his name in for the job.


In August 2004, Denver unveiled plans for one of the most ambitious police-monitoring programs in the country, one that would have unparalleled access to the inner workings of the city's law enforcement agencies. It came as part of a citywide shakeup triggered by the 2003 killing of Paul Childs by Denver police officers.

The death of Childs, a developmentally disabled fifteen-year-old, sparked widespread public outcry. While Denver cops weren't known for the sort of mass corruption that plagued the LAPD or for being as trigger-happy as their counterparts in Portland, the Denver Police Department often appeared unduly antagonistic. As one veteran officer of another metro police department puts it, "The prevailing thought around other agencies is that the Denver police have traditionally had an old-school mentality of 'Knock heads first, ask questions later.'"

Al LaCabe, whom newly elected mayor John Hickenlooper named Manager of Safety — the civilian authority in charge of the city's police, sheriff and fire departments — seemed to understand where this mentality came from. As a former Marine and New Orleans cop, LaCabe knew how officers balance the need to serve and protect with the desire to make it home in one piece each day — and he knew how easy it was for the latter consideration to override the former. "A lot of what eventually happens in a police-citizen contact or encounter has to do with how both the officer and the citizen approach the encounter in the first place. It sets the tone for what may happen as things unfold," says LaCabe. "It's getting the department and individual officers in the mindset of being true community police officers and understanding the concept of customer service while still understanding that they need to protect themselves from danger."

Part of Denver's problem, he realized, was the lack of any consistent punishment for those who violated this concept of customer service. Like most police departments, the DPD didn't have hard-and-fast discipline guidelines, just a system that based penalties on how punishments had been doled out in years and decades past. The comparative discipline system allowed officers to keep their jobs even when their chief wanted them fired; for example, Officer Matthew Graves, videotaped in 1997 holding a loaded gun to the head of a female prisoner, had kept his badge.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help

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?


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.


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.


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.


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.


Rosenthal needs to go trust me....