The new status report from Independent Monitor and Westword profile subject Richard Rosenthal contains a real whopper: He says off-duty Denver officers caught driving drunk in Denver may be scoring get-out-of-jail free cards.
Since 2005, ten off-duty Denver officers have been busted for drunk driving outside of Denver, but within city limits there were no cop DUIs, save for those that were serious enough to involve a collision.
Did Rosenthal find hard-and-fast proof that Denver cops were looking the other way when they caught their colleagues sloshed behind the wheel? No -- but the evidence in the report is compelling. As Rosenthal points out, when you look at drunk driving arrests for Denver civilians, the number of non-collision DUIs outweigh the number of collision-related DUIs by a ratio of roughly 3.3 to 1. And sure enough, that ratio essentially holds up for the ten Denver cops busted for drunk driving outside of the city since 2005: Two of the 10 arrests involved car accidents.
During that same period, the DPD busted five Denver cops for collision-related drunk driving. Considering the ratios described above, one would expect there to be between fifteen and twenty other cops arrested in Denver during this time for drunk driving that did not end in a crash. Instead, there were none.
In other words, the data suggests that there might be a DPD tendency to ignore Denver cops driving drunk -- that is, unless their behavior behind the wheel was so egregious there was no way to overlook it.
And when Denver cops are busted for drunk driving, Rosenthal is concerned that their punishment might not be stiff enough. In the report, he highlights the recent case of an off-duty Denver officer who drove off a mountain road and down an embankment with a blood-alcohol content that was three times the legal limit -- and with a loaded firearm in his glove compartment. When local cops told him he was being arrested, the officer was less than pleased:
"I can't believe you guys... I have never fucked another policeman, never in my life. I started in the suburbs of Chicago and I worked in Chicago, Chicago PD, and I now I work in Denver. I have never, never, ever fucked another policeman, and I don't know what you guys do up here... I have never been fucked by another policeman. I cannot believe this is the way you guys fucking run your department..."
In April 2011, Denver Manager of Safety Charles Garcia suspended the officer for 26 days for driving under the influence, unlawful possession of a firearm while intoxicated, and rude and offensive behavior towards other officers. But there is no specific punishment for soliciting preferential treatment. Also, Denver cops in the past have faced harsher punishment for less. Last year, for example, a Denver cop got slapped with a 46-day suspension for driving drunk and asking for preferential treatment, and in that case there was reportedly no loaded firearm or offensive behavior. It's interesting to note that the Safety Manager involved in that decision was none other than Ron Perea, a guy who lasted hardly a month in the position because he was seen as being way too lenient on cops.
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According to the report, after Rosenthal told DPD there was reason to believe that Denver officers driving drunk were receiving preferential treatment, the command staff agreed to create official protocol to deal with off-duty officers who are stopped for suspected DUI in Denver. Until then, however, if you're a Denver cop and you feel like driving drunk, it looks like it's best to keep your travel plans within city limits.
Here's Rosenthal's complete report:
More from our Colorado Crimes archive: "Denver police brutality scandal: A multimedia timeline."