Boxers or Briefs?: Inside Scathing Denver Sheriff's Department Report

Additional photos, a video and more below.
Additional photos, a video and more below.

Last year, the Denver Sheriff's Department sustained one public-relations hit after another.

Even the resignation of Sheriff Gary Wilson didn't calm the furor — since, shortly thereafter, it was revealed that interim Sheriff Elias Diggins had a criminal record.

In August 2014, the DSD tried to stem the tide of negative attention by announcing draft reforms in advance of an independent report on the department.

Now, that report is out, and the massive document, assembled by Hillard Heintze LLC, doesn't pull any punches or miss many details.

Note that one of its suggestions involves changing male inmates' underwear from boxers to briefs, because the former design gives arrestees fewer places to hide contraband.

We've included the entire document below — but as a preview, we've pulled out and photo-illustrated five issues and recommendations from the "Jail Management and Operations" section. Included is the underwear item, plus ones related to strip searches and the dangers of putting inmates from rival gangs into close proximity with each other.

That's followed by general recommendations in this area, as well as ones pertaining to "Leadership, Supervision and Strategic Planning" and "Organization and Administration." And we've also shared a Fox31 report.

1. Inmate movement during counts:

Inmates are often included in counts at the DCJ, even though they are not currently at the facility. Inmates who are admitted to the hospital, in the community while under the supervision
of the sheriff home detention program, or held at other facilities are included on the DCJ count. Thirty-two inmates were included on the DCJ jail count on December 20, 2014 despite actually being at the aforementioned locations. Classification and records office staff indicated a dozen or more inmates may be included on the institutional count even though they are not physically present at the facility.

Recommendations:

Freeze Order: Stop all movement of inmates when deputies are counting inmates and resume movement when the count is completed.

Perpetual Count: Ensure deputies working in the living unit pods and those supervising inmate assignments outside of the living units maintain an ongoing count as inmates come and go. Deputies should always be aware of the number of inmates in their physical custody.

2. Cell-search frequency and documentation:

We observed excessive amounts of contraband during rounds with housing deputies including fruit that could be used to make alcohol, large amounts of books and inappropriate photos. When we mentioned the items to staff, they stated that these items are usually addressed during the weekly “deep clean” of the living units. DSD leaders informed us that deputies found heroin in the common area of a living unit in the DCJ on December 13, 2014.

Recommendations:

Undergarments: Change the undergarments approved for use by male inmates from briefs to boxers to reduce the potential of inmates storing contraband.

3. Property searches at intake:

DSD also allows individuals to wear their personal clothing while being interviewed at various intake stations at the DDC. The intake procedures can take anywhere from an hour to several hours, and the inmate is allowed to use the restroom during this time. Individuals could remove any contraband that was hidden in their personal clothing while sitting in the open area or in the restroom, ingest drugs or use hazardous items on themselves, other inmates or staff.

Recommendations:

Change of Clothes: Allow inmates to shower and require them to change into facility clothing before proceeding through the admissions process to reduce the opportunity to bring contraband into the facilities.

4. Strip Searches before Entry into General Population:

We learned through direct observation and interviews with deputies that strip searches are not conducted when inmates leave short-term housing and go into general population. Deputies indicated that the strip search was eliminated when DSD acquired the body scanner. We observed inmates leaving the DCJ kitchen and returning to general population with only a pat-down search conducted. Deputies assigned to the kitchen indicated that they did not conduct strip searches on inmates returning to general population from their kitchen work
assignment. Spices and food could easily be taken from the kitchen into general population.

Recommendations:

Updated Policies: Update Department Order 4040.1Q and DDC Policy 803.00 regarding strip searches to reflect the currently approved practice of DSD using a body scan, rather than conducting an actual strip search. DCJ policies should also be updated to reflect that pat-down searches are conducted prior to an inmate returning to the living units.

Kitchen Duties: Consider establishing a policy where inmates returning from work details, such as kitchen duty, are scanned and pat searched, preferably after having stripped down to their underwear.

5. Information Sharing on Gang Affiliation

Although classification deputies ask inmates about their gang affiliations during interviews at the DDC, classification deputies state that gang information is not used when assigning inmates to a housing unit. Classification deputies do not assign inmates to individual pods within the living unit, and are not involved in inmate requests to move to different pods in a living unit. Housing deputies have the ability to move inmates to different pods in a living unit. This creates problems because they do not have all the information needed — including gang affiliations and family relationships — to make informed decisions.

Recommendations:

Authorization: Clarify and emphasize the authority of the classification staff to make all housing assignments, and require them to consider gang affiliation when determining where to house inmates.

Information Sharing: Require classification deputies to incorporate questions on gang ranks and known associations in their intake interviews and share the information with the gang specialists at each facility. Establish a formal liaison process to ensure classification deputies are sharing information regarding inmates’ gang affiliations with members of the gang unit.

Use of Gang Intelligence: Keep updated gang intelligence on inmates who should be kept separate from other inmates. Access to the gang intelligence file should be granted to the classification deputies.

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RECOMMENDATIONS: LEADERSHIP, SUPERVISION AND STRATEGIC PLANNING

1. New Sheriff: Focus immediately on installing effective leadership at key command levels by hiring a highly qualified permanent sheriff or temporary change agent to serve as sheriff with a focus on rapidly implementing reforms. Either hire must come from outside the organization and be capable of delivering the leadership, vision, change management savvy, strategic know-how and jail management skills so vitally needed to set DSD on a new course.

2. Strategic Plan Update: Develop a Strategic Plan – actionable at the employee level — that addresses DSD’s strengths and weakness and provides both short- and long-term goals and objectives.

3. Prioritization: Prioritize the challenges facing DSD in line with DSD’s Strategic Plan. Use the plan to implement the recommendations proposed by DSD reform task forces. The recommendations must be collectively prioritized, and each given timelines for implementation.

4. Employee Performance and Goal Setting: Develop clearly defined performance measures for each unit of the Department to ensure they are achieving their missions and are aligned to the Strategic Plan.

5. Hierarchy of Goals: Ensure that the Strategic Plan establishes a hierarchy of goals that cascades across all DSD functions and personnel, and sets clear expectations for leaders, supervisors and employees in a way that assists individual employees at all levels in contributing to DSD’s mission.

6. Code of Conduct: Create a Code of Conduct that clearly defines DSD’s expectation of employee behavior.

7. Directive Log System: Implement a process in which deputies must sign off that they have received and read new orders or directives. This will help improve communication about changes in the Department.

8. Mentoring and Succession Planning: Ensure that the formal training programs for DSD supervisors and command deputies address these topics. They should also be included as specific duties within DSD’s Performance Enhancement Plan Report (PEPR) appraisal system.

9. Workforce Metrics: Periodically publish data indicating the diversity of the Department and its leadership.

10. Latino Diversity: Continue to ensure hiring, career development and succession planning is in place for the Latino community, as well as for other growing minority communities.

11. Leadership Skills: Focus on leadership skills and an individual’s potential to develop them during its hiring process.

12. Leadership Development: Ensure first-line DSD employees receive leadership development training for law enforcement officials serving in detention centers and correctional environments. This will help them deliver the quality services the community expects and prepare them for greater responsibilities when they are promoted.

RECOMMENDATIONS: ORGANIZATION AND ADMINISTRATION

1. Structural Independence: Retain DSD as an independent organization. Forgo major structural reform of the Department and allow new leadership, an updated Strategic Plan and new levels of accountability to address current concerns about DSD’s structure and path.

2. Organizational Chart: Evaluate, in tandem with representatives from the City and County of Denver Office of Human Resources, the current DSD organizational chart to ensure that a proper chain of command is established. Avoid burdening the new Sheriff with too many direct reports. Wherever possible, ensure all sworn members in the chain of command answer to personnel at a higher rank.

3. Accountability and Supervision: Have DSD recruitment staff and screening and hiring staff work cooperatively with Office of Human Resources (OHR) and Safety Human Resources (Safety HR) to increase accountability and transparency during the entire recruitment and hiring process to help rebuild community trust in the process and attract and retain better prepared and informed candidates to DSD.

4. Policies and Procedures: Establish a single, coordinated approach to develop and maintaining DSD policies and protocols.

5. Periodic Training Review: Review training needs and requirements for the basic academy and in-service courses annually. Ensure the updated training needs are shared with OHR and Safety HR personnel to facilitate any changes that must be made to the entry qualifications for those applying to become a DSD deputy or to the qualifications required to be considered for promotions.

6. Functional Consolidation: Merge functions – such as Budget, IT, Human Resources, Research and Development, and Policy and Procedure Development — into a Support Services Division.

7. Program Rationalization: Have the Executive Director of Safety task another agency or entity to manage the VIF, such as the City and County of Denver Department of Public Works. Privatizing or outsourcing the function should also be considered. Cancel or postpone the aquaponics program until more efficient and practical methodologies and techniques are developed. The personnel committed to this endeavor would be best engaged elsewhere.

8. Recruiting: Review the internal cases filed for excessive force and other IAB matters to determine if there were any indicators missed or information not considered to be a disqualifier in previous hires that in hindsight may have prevented some of the Internal Affairs complaints and concerns. Focus efforts and attention on recruiting personnel who are comfortable working in a jail environment rather than a traditional law enforcement career working street patrols.

RECOMMENDATIONS: JAIL MANAGEMENT AND OPERATIONS

60. Inmate Complaints: Task sergeants and other supervisory personnel with the first step of the inmate grievance process and ensure they are trained and empowered to resolve inmate
complaints and make final grievance decisions in a timely fashion.

61. Leadership Involvement: Establish the rank of major as the first step of the appeal process and the division chief as the second level of the appeal process.

62. Corrective Actions: Require the major responsible to review all the completed grievances monthly to assess the quality of grievance responses and provide corrective actions if grievances are not seriously addressed.

63. Revision: Conduct a review by division chiefs of Department Rule 4810.2A on inmate grievances and revise the facility’s policy for compliance with the department rule.

64. Updated Form: Modify the inmate grievance form to include the date the inmate submitted the grievance, thereby allowing the Data Analytics Division to monitor whether DSD
is complying with established time frames to resolve the complaints.

65. Repetitive Data: Streamline the inmate grievance process to reduce the redundancy in data entry instead of accepting the reform committee recommendation to increase staffing at the DDC to manage inmate grievances.

66. Languages: Identify dominant languages, in addition to Spanish, spoken in the jails and continue to translate grievance and sick call forms into these. Also create a better mechanism
for ensuring they are readily available to non-English speaking inmates.

67. Tracking Log: Consider implementing a centralized grievance tracking log that is easily accessible by staff.

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

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