Today, December 13, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock announced that investigations into complaints against Denver Sheriff Department personnel will be handled in the future by a newly created agency, the Public Integrity Division. And even though the office, which should be up and running by July 1, 2019, has been placed under the Department of Public Safety's umbrella, it will be run and staffed by civilians — a move intended to both speed up the process of looking into alleged wrongdoing and address concerns raised about the previous process, in which the DSD essentially investigated itself.
The goal, Hancock said, is that under the PID, inquiries will be "done quickly and with the interest of transparency and integrity."
The new division will be directed by Eric Williams, a twelve-year veteran of the FBI who was named the Department of Public Safety's deputy director in June. And consulting for the project on a contract basis is Bob Troyer, who recently stepped down as U.S. Attorney for Colorado.
In speaking to attendees of the announcement event, held on the second-floor rotunda of the Denver City and County Building, Troyer quipped, "I'm very excited to be speaking to this large a group and not be talking about marijuana."
Westword reported last month about an online job listing for a "Director of Internal Affairs." At the time, Denver Sheriff Department communications director Daria Serna, corresponding via email, confirmed that the position was civilian in nature and would take on responsibilities previously handled by the DSD's Internal Affairs Bureau.
"The Department of Public Safety has a history of supporting the civilianization of positions in its sworn agencies that do not require law enforcement authority," she wrote. "This applies to the Director of Internal Affairs position as well, which was assessed and ultimately pursued."
In his remarks, Hancock talked about feedback from members of the public as well as Denver Sheriff Department personnel about the inadequacies of the way misconduct complaints are currently being handled before handing off to Executive Director of Public Safety Troy Riggs, who explained the genesis of the division.
Riggs said that in February, shortly after being hired, he sat down with Hancock to discuss the challenges ahead, and among the topics they tackled was the discipline process for law enforcers in the city. Further conversations took place involving community members, DSD employees and Independent Monitor Nicholas Mitchell, whose office recommended civilianizing of the investigations in its scathing March report about the in-custody death of Michael Marshall.
Along the way, Riggs discovered that the average investigation into a misconduct complaint involving a member of the sheriff department took 239 days, as compared to ninety days for the Denver Police Department. Because of the DPD's greater efficiency, the Public Integrity Division will initially focus solely on sheriff department inquiries, though Riggs didn't rule out the possibility that police department matters might eventually shift to its control, too.
He also stressed that "for discipline to be effective, it must be timely."
With that in mind, Riggs said a team consisting of the Independent Monitor, the city's Citizen Oversight Board and members of his own staff are already working on the best way to move the Public Integrity Division from the idea stage to reality. But new personnel will be hired over the next six months or so. He couldn't say how many at this point, but he guessed the number mighty wind up in the range of twenty — and some of them could be existing staff members who may be offered the opportunity to join the PID on a civilian basis once the division is up and running.
He also emphasized that the division would not diminish the responsibilities of Denver Sheriff Patrick Firman. But while Firman stood with the other speakers at the event, he didn't take the microphone himself.
Williams, for his part, kept his remarks brief, sticking mostly to saying that he looks forward to working with Riggs and others in putting the Public Integrity Division together, and Troyer struck a similar tone.
Specifics were few, but Riggs promised that the public would be kept abreast of all developments — and in answer to a question from another attendee, anti-gang advocate Reverend Leroy Kelly, he confirmed that the community would have plenty of chances to weigh in, too. If he didn't, Riggs joked with the Rev, "I'm sure you'd let me know about it."
Indeed, activists have been calling for civilian oversight of law enforcement misconduct investigations throughout Mayor Hancock's time in office. That he's launching it now — as political rivals are announcing their candidacy for the mayoral election to be held in 2019 and questions continue about when (not if) he's going to confirm his own bid — is probably not coincidental.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.