Law Enforcement

Denver City Council Could Put Independent Monitor Measure on Ballot

The Independent Monitor serves as watchdog on law enforcement.
The Independent Monitor serves as watchdog on law enforcement. Evan Semon Photography
Denver City Council could refer a measure to the November ballot that would increase the independence of the Office of the Independent Monitor.

"We are responding to many years of community input about the office's structure," Councilwoman Jamie Torres said at an August 4 committee meeting; she is co-sponsoring the charter-change proposal with colleagues Robin Kniech and Stacie Gilmore.

The proposal would remove the mayor's power to appoint the Independent Monitor, the person who serves as a law enforcement watchdog in Denver. Instead, the Citizen Oversight Board, an entity that oversees the effectiveness of the Office of the Independent Monitor and advises the city on policies related to law enforcement and public safety, would be in charge of appointing the Independent Monitor. Denver City Council would have approval power over any board choice.

The Citizen Oversight Board comprises nine citizens, four of whom are appointed by the mayor, four by the council, and one jointly by the mayor and the council.

The proposal would also make staffers in the Office of the Independent Monitor career-service employees, giving them greater protections; the Independent Monitor could still appoint two at-will staffers. In addition, it would allow the office to hire independent counsel to get an outside legal opinion. Currently, the Independent Monitor can only get legal advice from the Denver City Attorney's Office.

According to Torres, the proposal has been received positively by other councilmembers. Advocacy organizations have also expressed support for the measure.

"I think from a community standpoint that this increases transparency and accountability around public safety for law enforcement in Denver," Gianina Horton, executive director of the Denver Justice Project, said during the August 4 meeting.

In August 2020, Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca proposed a charter change that would have given the council appointment authority for the Independent Monitor, but that measure was referred back to committee, and it didn't make the November 2020 ballot.

The Task Force to Reimagine Policing and Public Safety, a body that emerged from the racial-justice protests in 2020, issued a report in May that recommended increasing the independence of the OIM.

However, Robert Davis, who served as the head of that task force, believes that the council, rather than the Citizen Advisory Board, should be in charge of appointing the Independent Monitor. "They answer to the voters," he notes, "so that ensures a certain level of accountability, because if I'm an unpaid volunteer who myself is appointed, then there's really no accountability for my vote, and I don't have to answer to my constituents about what the vote is."

But Torres responds that she and the other councilmembers pushing the proposal settled on the Citizen Advisory Board as the appointing authority because they "wanted to ensure that it wasn't politicized, either."

The Citizen Oversight Board is ready to take on the job.

"We are encouraged by the suggestions of councilmembers to improve and update the office of the Independent Monitor and the roles and responsibility of the Citizen Oversight Board," Julia Richman, vice chair of the COB, said at the August 4 meeting.

And there does not appear to be opposition from the executive branch. "Mayor Hancock is not generally opposed to this proposal at this time," says Mike Strott, a spokesperson for Mayor Michael Hancock.

Torres expects the full council to vote on the measure on August 16, in time to get it on the November ballot, which is already stacked with initiatives and proposals.

Denver is currently without a permanent Independent Monitor. Nick Mitchell, who had served as the monitor since 2012, resigned in January to take a job overseeing a court-ordered agreement related to systemic issues in Los Angeles County jails. Gregg Crittenden, a senior deputy monitor, has been serving as the interim head of the office since Mitchell left.

A committee that includes Torres and Gilmore was set up in March to select a new Independent Monitor and has contracted with a search firm to find Mitchell's replacement. "I don't think we'll have a monitor in place before the end of the year," Torres says.

And by that point, Denver residents may have approved a new system for finding the next Independent Monitor.
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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.