Denver Police Department finishes major reorganization, with many demoted

Denver Police Chief Robert White's controversial reorganization of the department is now in effect, and top officials say the major restructuring will create a stronger agency -- even if many officers were forced to face demotions. In an effort to reduce "stagnation," White opened up positions, so that many officers had to reapply for their jobs. And at the end of the process, close to one hundred cops stepped down to lower positions.

White, who was named chief last December, has said that he understands the difficulty of the process, but that it will maximize efficiency and ensure that the department is making the most of its talent by rewarding good work.

"Some officers had been in positions for twenty years and had become somewhat complacent," says Lieutenant Matt Murray, chief of staff to White, explaining that a freeze on hiring for the past several years contributed to the lack of change in the department. "He determined this was the only fair way to do this."

What White did was open up the detective, corporal and technician positions so that anyone interested could have a shot. "He opened them all up for everybody to apply, including people who had the positions," Murray says.

Many began in their new positions on November 4, and data provided by Murray shows that many who applied for their own jobs didn't end up keeping them.

At the detective-level, 41 officers were not retained in the same spots. Of current technicians, 35 were not retained. And at the corporal level, 15 were not retained. That comes out to a total of 91 officers who are now back on patrol.

Additional, 83.6 percent of those who applied at the detective level got positions, while 69 percent of the technician applicants were appointed and 74.6 percent of corporal applicants were appointed.

The process was tough, Murray says: "Change is stress and most people don't like change, and police officers are no different."

In a recent interview, Manager of Safety Alex Martinez, who has civilian authority over the Denver police, fire and sheriff departments, said that the DPD restructuring was an important reform effort in the city -- but that it was incredibly difficult for many officers.

"I'm absolutely happy with [White] and the fact that he took the department through that process," Martinez told us. "There is no question that a lot of people were upset by that. You have to sort of sit back and imagine that...everybody's job is open and people are applying for their own jobs, and you get to apply for your boss's job."

He added, "It's a lot of trauma. Huge attempt to get it done right -- to end any sort of impressions that it's about favoritism and to really do it on a basis that is as objective as possible."

But by its very nature, the effort was one that could be hurtful, Martinez noted: "You have winners and losers in it."

The best way to handle the inevitable backlash? Strong communication. "It's about listening and it's about talking and it's about giving people the opportunity to go through the individual process of the usual pattern of denial and bargaining and eventually acceptance," Martinez said. "It's about communicating what an opportunity this is for the whole department."

Continue for more from Murray and Martinez on the benefits of the restructuring.

There's a range of benefits that comes from this reshuffling, according to Department of Safety and DPD officials.

For example, Murray points to basic economic savings due to increased efficiencies that come with restructuring.

For detectives, the DPD went from 269 to 255 officers through this process, which Murray says will result in a savings of $73,780 per year. At the level of technicians, the savings is even greater -- at $347,310 per year, with a drop from 136 to 91 officers. And a decrease of corporals from 102 to 77 equates to annual savings of $263,500.

But White would have launched this process even if it didn't come with economic benefits, Murray says, because he believes it will push forward his goal of restoring the public's faith in the department.

"There's been an outcry by the public for many years about the Denver Police Department and the way the public perceived our interactions," Murray says. "Chief White was brought here to change that culture."

Forcing officers to go through that process essentially raises the bar and ideally will improve the quality of the department -- and Murray, who has been at the DPD for more than two decades, says it's the largest reform of this kind he's ever seen. "This is dramatic change. This is wholesale change," he notes.

White's "primary interest is building a police department that serves the needs of the community," White adds. "If it's gonna make officers unhappy...and it's the right thing to do for the community, he's gonna do it."

Plus, Murray says, "When you are rewarding the good employees, that's the right thing to do and they're quietly happy about it."

In a recent e-mail about the restructuring, White wrote:

Change is always difficult and I understand the changes that have taken place this year have impacted you and your families. Thank you for your dedication to our community and your professionalism in carrying out your job responsibilities. We are seeing a difference in our interactions with the community and the recognition, by the media, of good work performed by our employees.

When we spoke with him about the restructuring, Martinez said he hoped it would put better officers in higher positions, which would then have a positive impact on the ranks below as well. "It puts people in charge who are aligned with the mission and values of the department, because it gives those people opportunities to select the people that are working for them," he explained, adding that it allows "people to be held accountable for the actions of those people that they're supervising."

And the positive results could extend beyond the department, Martinez said: "It should begin a process of a more genteel interaction with the public."

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Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin. E-mail the author at [email protected].

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