Police misconduct: Denver ranks number one in terms of excessive force complaints

Several police-brutality incidents and the resignation of Denver Manager of Safety Ron Perea have cast a harsh light on the Denver PD. Chief Gerry Whitman doesn't think the department's out of control, telling the city safety committee, "Our use of force per arrest is less than most major police forces." But the National Police Misconduct Statistics and Reporting Project begs to differ.

For the past two years, the web-based NPMSRP has been obsessively compiling reports of police misconduct across the nation and crunching the numbers in extremely compelling ways. It's the brainchild of David Packman, a Seattle resident suffered the injustice of spending a month in jail for first-degree assault before being cleared because of video evidence -- and then decided to get even through cold, hard facts.

Earlier this week, Packman decided to look at the cold, hard facts of Denver's police department -- and the results aren't pretty. While Colorado as a whole falls comfortably in the middle of the national pack in terms of reported police misconduct -- in 2009, the state ranked 29th in terms of the ratio of publicized misconduct incidents per law enforcement officers, and so far this year it's ranked 25th -- Denver doesn't fare so well. With nineteen Denver officers involved in publicized reports of police misconduct so far this year, Packman ranks the force the sixth worst out of 63 U.S. police departments with more than 1,000 officers. Only Atlanta, New Orleans, Fort Worth, Louisville and Jacksonville ranked worse.

The stats get more troubling when Packman looks just at publicized incidents of excessive force. According to Packman's research, between January and June of this year, seventeen Denver officers were associated with excessive force complaints, a higher ratio per law enforcement officer than any other U.S. city. Adding in the highly publicized police incidents last month, Packman calculates that Denver has an "Excessive Force Rate" of 2,531 officers involved in excessive force complaints per every 100,000 officers. That's more than ten times higher than what he's determined to be the national average: 210 complaints per 100,000 officers.

"Clearly, Denver has a problem even if the police chief insists that there isn't a problem," says Packman. "Which is likely half of the reason why there is such a large problem in Denver -- since a problem ignored is a problem that is never fixed. So, how can Denver lower their excessive force incident rate? The first step, of course, is to acknowledge that there is a problem."

Hopefully, Packman's sobering analysis will be a step in the right direction.

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Joel Warner is a former staff writer for Westword and International Business Times. He's also written for WIRED, Men's Journal, Men's Health, Bloomberg Businessweek, Popular Science, Slate, Grantland and many other publications. He's co-author of the 2014 book The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny, published by Simon & Schuster.
Contact: Joel Warner

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