Denver Government

Hancock Taps Armando Saldate as Executive Director of Public Safety

Armando Saldate is Denver's new executive director of Public Safety.
Armando Saldate is Denver's new executive director of Public Safety. Facebook
Mayor Michael Hancock has chosen Armando Saldate, a longtime law enforcement official, to become Denver's new executive director of the Department of Public Safety. The department includes the police, fire and sheriff departments, and has a total budget of $567 million.

Murphy Robinson, who'd been the executive director of Public Safety since January 2020, announced In December that he'd be stepping down. Saldate's appointment will remain interim until he's approved by Denver City Council; this is the first time an appointed Public Safety head has had to go through the approval process, a requirement added to the Denver charter by voters in November 2020.

Saldate got into a high-profile dustup with Lisa Calderón, the former chief of staff for Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca, this past summer, and he didn't mince words at a January 5 press conference.

"We know that we aren't going to arrest ourselves out of this, and you're going to hear that from me often," Saldate said. "Those that are significant threats to our community, I just want to be real clear on this, should not be granted [personal recognizance] bonds."

Saldate has spent the past few years working for the Department of Public Safety; before that, he was with the Denver Sheriff Department. Earlier experience includes work in the Phoenix Police Department and as an FBI agent who tracked financial transactions of terrorist organizations.

While with the Department of Public Safety for the last three-plus years, Saldate has worked on a handful of issues related to homelessness, such as establishing the Early Intervention Team, which visits budding encampments to offer services with the goal of preventing these encampments from growing larger. The EIT is now housed in the Department of Housing Stability. Saldate has also helped set up the Street Enforcement Team, a group of city employees authorized to enforce laws typically associated with people experiencing homelessness, such as unauthorized camping and public urination. While SET has already been deployed with the Denver Police Department's Homeless Outreach Team, it has not yet started on actual enforcement, as staffers are still waiting on uniforms.

From the start, homeless service providers have expressed concerns about SET and the potential for it to contribute to further criminalizing homelessness. "Homelessness is arguably the most visible concern facing Denver today," Saldate said at the press conference, using the phrase "harm reduction" numerous times. Saldate is a passionate supporter of the safe-camping site model, which service providers have been implementing for people experiencing homelessness since December 2020.

Saldate didn't directly answer questions regarding whether he supports establishing a supervised injection site in Denver, however. Denver City Council has already created a legal framework for such a site, but the city has been waiting for the Colorado Legislature to pass related legislation.

He did say that he plans to oversee an investigation of how the Denver Police Department handled past tips about Lyndon McLeod, the man suspected of killing five people in a December 27 shooting rampage in Denver and Lakewood. "We're going to look at everything from the first we responded to that call, how it was handled, how it was transferred over to the [FBI]," Saldate noted.

Saldate will also be working with Hancock on how far Denver will take criminal justice reform. The city is currently in the process of implementing a series of recommendations issued by the Task Force to Reimagine Policing and Public Safety, which was established in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd.

Hancock is in the last eighteen months of his final mayoral term. Over the past few months, several high-level cabinet members, including Robinson, have announced their departures.
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.