Police brutality: Denver incidents tie into national police-misconduct upswing

Much has been made of several high-profile incidents of alleged police brutality involving the Denver PD, culminating in the resignation of Denver Manager of Safety Ron Perea. Number crunchers even suggest Denver's number-one for excessive-force complaints. But while the focus may be on Denver, the incidents may be tied to a national upswing in police misconduct.

As reported by USA Today in 2007, federal court cases involving law enforcement using excessive force or other tactics to violate civil rights increased 25 percent between 2001 and 2007 nationwide, from 224 cases to 281.

The upswing can't be written off as just a matter of increasingly overzealous litigators. During that same time period, the U.S. Justice Department reported it won 53 percent more convictions in such cases.

So what could account for the upsurge in misconduct incidents? James Pasco, executive director of the National Fraternal Order of Police, told USA Today he was concerned it could be tied to declining standards in police recruitment, training and promotion in the face of police vacancies. As many cops have enlisted to fight in the wars overseas, some police departments have had to resort to cash bonuses to fill staff holes.

Denver fits right in to this pattern. Between 2003 and 2007, the force experienced its biggest hiring surge in Denver history, taking on 516 new police recruits -- so many that the city force ended up being overstaffed by 65 officers.

Did this influx represent a loosening of standards that's now translated into more local cops getting accused of misconduct? It's hard to say. But as the negative headlines keep coming, it's safe to assume the police brass will be taking a good, hard look at their recruiting and training initiatives.