Although that discipline system had withstood six previous attempts at overhaul, LaCabe was still determined to shake things up. He slapped a heavy suspension on the officer who'd shot Childs, overruling Denver Police Chief Gerry Whitman's recommendation and courting the ire of the Denver Police Protective Association, Denver's police union. A year later, he did the same for the cop who shot and killed 63-year-old Frank Lobato while he lay in his bed, unarmed.

By then, LaCabe and other city officials had realized that it was time to replace the city's Public Safety Review Commission (PSRC), a volunteer body established in 1992, with an independent monitor system. Whereas the PSRC, which consisted of mayoral appointees, would review complaints about the police after internal investigations were completed, the independent monitor would have access to every aspect of the disciplinary process and would have the authority to advise — but not override — both the law enforcement chain of command and city officials on discipline decisions and policy issues; the independent monitor would also be able to discuss his findings publicly. Although the PSRC would be abolished when the independent monitor post was created, the monitor's office would work with another volunteer group of citizens, the seven-member Citizen Oversight Board, which was charged with evaluating the effectiveness of the monitor. "What we looked at in the Hickenlooper administration is how do you combine the functions of the Manager of Safety's office with an ongoing function in civilian oversight that puts a person in an investigation from the very beginning," says LaCabe. "It would still be advisory, but the person would be present during the course of the investigation and could recommend steps in the investigation and make a determination if the investigation was complete. That put a totally different set of eyes and a totally different approach to the investigation."

Who to put in that position? "It had to be accomplished by someone who didn't appear to have a political agenda, someone who would make decisions based upon good law and good policy," says LaCabe. "Someone who understood police investigations."

Rosenthal looked like the right guy for the job, and was hired in 2005. He hit the ground running. "Everyone was ready for change, including the rank and file and the union," Rosenthal remembers. "As a result of that, what took me a year and half in Portland got done in four months in Denver." Those first, fast steps included a filtering system for citizen complaints and a citizen-officer mediation program that would become one of the largest in the country.

Meanwhile, any time there was an officer-involved shooting or any other critical incident, Rosenthal and one of his two deputy monitors were there for every step of the investigation, poking around the crime scene, listening in on witness interviews, weighing in on command staff's discipline recommendations. "I am the only person who follows the entire process," says Rosenthal. And since he never knows when he's going to get called out to a crime scene or incident, "I haven't had a drop of alcohol, really, in Colorado in six and a half years," he notes.

He may not have touched alcohol, but he hasn't avoided touchy subjects. Rosenthal was adamant that officers who lied during investigations should be fired, argued that internal investigations dragged on way too long, and spoke out about a police-union fund that covered officers who were suspended without pay. But at the same time, he also disagreed with complaints about how the cops handled protesters during the Democratic National Convention, determining that officers were operating within procedure when they engaged in mass arrests.

"It's a tough position to have," says Denver Director of Corrections Gary Wilson. "At times the decisions and recommendations he makes aren't going to be well-perceived by both sides. But what he does is he really understands his job and allows the evidence and facts of a case to drive his decisions."

Rosenthal and LaCabe didn't always see eye to eye on those decisions; every now and then, one of the Independent Monitor's quarterly reports would criticize a move by the Manager of Safety. Still, he and LaCabe shared "strong philosophical beliefs in the importance of accountability, the idea that with great power comes great responsibility," Rosenthal says, adding that those shared beliefs helped make it possible to reform the police discipline system.

In 2008, LaCabe introduced the new disciplinary matrix, a guidebook that established rules for police punishment, including the concept that lying during investigations or administrative proceedings would be cause for termination. "For the first time ever, anywhere, it establishes parameters, goals, and explains what is important in police discipline and ethics," says Rosenthal. "That disciplinary handbook, which I helped write, and its result is the most significant thing I have ever done in my 24-year career."

And Rosenthal wasn't the only one pleased with the results. Surveys found that both citizens and officers were happier with the new complaint system and mediation program that his office had put in place. At the same time, crime rates dropped as Denver placed more officers on the street. A 2008 PARC report on use of deadly force by the city's police determined that, more so than Portland, the city was in good shape: "The right people are in the right places to make these positive changes permanent and to continue building a force providing effective, respectful and accountable policing to all persons in the city and county of Denver."

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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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