Following the October resignation of Patrick Firman as Denver sheriff, the search is on to replace the head of Colorado’s largest sheriff department.
Mayor Michael Hancock’s office will host four community meetings in mid-December to gather feedback for the search. They will take place in the districts of Denver City Council members Candi CdeBaca, Kendra Black, Jamie Torres and Stacie Gilmore.
Councilmember Chris Hinds will host his own meeting, on December 17 at the Central Library, to gather feedback for the search. “We realized that there is nothing really even close to District 10,” he says of the planned community gatherings, “so we thought, this is an important issue, and we’d like to know what people in District 10 think.” Hinds’s district includes Capitol Hill and Cherry Creek, among other neighborhoods.
While Hancock’s meetings will be hosted by staffers from his office, Hinds says he will bring in representatives from the sheriff deputies’ union. He says he’d also like participants to consider an initiative proposed by CdeBaca that would make the sheriff, currently a mayoral appointment, an elected position. “If we’re going to hold our own listening sessions, then we should also ask if people want to have direct influence on the sheriff, as in an elected one rather than an appointed one,” he explains.
CdeBaca and Lisa Calderón, her chief of staff, say the elected sheriff proposal is designed to take power away from the mayor's office and increase the independence and accountability of leadership in the sheriff's department. If the initiative is successful, Denver would join the vast majority of counties in Colorado in electing its sheriffs.
Hinds says he hasn’t decided whether to support CdeBaca’s initiative. He has heard his constituents caution that electing a sheriff could make the position more susceptible to the influence of special-interest groups, like private prison companies, or other campaign donors with large coffers. But he says he supports taking some power from the executive branch of government in Denver, which has a strong mayor system. “There are some people in District 10 that have an interest in making sure that there are three full branches of government, and there are concerns that one branch of government has outsized influence in what happens in the city. They want to equalize the power a little bit in the city,” Hinds says.
Aside from CdeBaca, Amanda Sawyer is the only other member of city council who supports the initiative. The rest of the members either don’t support the initiative or say they are on the fence.
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“I am not yet persuaded that electing a sheriff would matter when it comes to addressing problems in our correctional system. How does that fix any problems?” Councilman Kevin Flynn wrote in an email to Westword.
The sheriff’s department has been plagued by gruesome inmate deaths and use-of-force issues for the past decade. Such incidents have cost the city millions of dollars in legal settlements and payouts.
CdeBaca’s initiative will need seven votes of support from councilmembers to land on the November 2020 ballot.
“We haven’t formally counted ‘yes’ votes, but folks seem open to it,” says Calderón.
The meeting organized by Hinds will take place from 5:30 to 7 p.m. in room B2-C of the Denver Central Library on December 17.