Against a backdrop of heightened public scrutiny of law enforcement actions, Mayor Michael Hancock has selected a retired Denver County Court judge and a Massachusetts police oversight official to join the search for Denver's next Independent Monitor.
“This committee, made up of respected voices in this field, will bring a diverse perspective to finding the next Independent Monitor for our city, who will build on the foundations that have made this office a national leader in this work,” Hancock said in a statement announcing the appointments. After serving over eight years as the city's chief law enforcement watchdog, Nick Mitchell left the job in January; Mitchell, who is still living in Denver, took a gig overseeing a court-ordered agreement designed to fix systemic, unconstitutional conditions in the Los Angeles County jails.
Claudia Jordan, a retired Denver County Court judge who served on the selection committee in 2012, and Brian Corr, who is currently the executive secretary for the Police Review and Advisory Board for the City of Cambridge, Massachusetts, join three others already appointed to the five-person selection committee. Corr, who has a civil rights advocacy background, previously served as president of the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement.
Under city ordinance, the selection committee includes Al Gardner, chair of the Denver Citizen Oversight Board, and Karen Niparko, executive director of the Denver Office of Human Resources. Denver City Council President Stacie Gilmore appointed Councilmember Jamie Torres as the council's representative on the committee.
“We have heard our Denver community and their strong desire to ensure we have diversity and representation, while re-framing public safety from an anti-racist lens. As we move forward, we must find an authentic leader who will hold our safety departments accountable and provide a voice for all of our communities,” Gilmore said in a statement.
The Independent Monitor's position is being filled on an interim basis by Gregg Crittenden, who has worked in the Denver Independent Monitor's Office since 2006.
Denver's next monitor will have large shoes to fill, as Mitchell drew wide respect for his work. Just before announcing his resignation, Mitchell completed a report examining the Denver Police Department response to the George Floyd protests. The report, released in early December, described a department that was largely unprepared to manage the protests and then mishandled its use of less-lethal munitions. The report included a list of recommendations for the DPD, most of which Chief Paul Pazen said would be implemented or already had been.
During his tenure, Mitchell also oversaw high-profile investigations of in-custody deaths in Denver's jails.
"It's a solid group," Mitchell says of the selection committee, with members who are "independent-minded people."
Denver's Office of the Independent Monitor, which was introduced by then-Mayor John Hickenlooper, oversees large-scale investigations into claims of systemic law enforcement misconduct and also researches individual complaints against officers and deputies. The office does not have the power to discipline law enforcement employees; that's left up to the leadership of their departments.
Some members of Denver City Council want to give the office more power. Councilmember Candi CdeBaca plans to bring "proposals to council to ensure that the Monitor's Office is strengthened and properly resourced, and that a community process for selecting this critical position is codified into Denver's charter."
Other councilmembers have hinted at a desire to pass an ordinance allowing the Independent Monitor automatic access to Evidence.com, where the Denver Police Department stores body-worn camera footage. Currently, the Independent Monitor's office can only get such footage at the discretion of the DPD.
The selection committee will evaluate applications and interview candidates; it will also take input from members of the public. In 2012, the City of Denver hosted a public discussion with Mitchell and the two other finalists for the job.
After the public engagement period, the committee will present three finalists to the mayor, who will then announce his pick. Denver City Council will have to approve the selection before the appointment of the new Independent Monitor becomes official.
Denver's system has been lauded across the country; Aurora is now looking into hiring an independent monitor, too.
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