Law Enforcement

Denver Considering Public Safety Reform Recommendations

Denver Considering Public Safety Reform Recommendations
Evan Semon Photography
While the relationship between city leadership and a community-led task force established to reimagine policing and public safety became frayed at the beginning of the year, Denver officials now appear open to at least some of the task force's recommendations.

"We have had many areas where we saw common ground with the task force. We are not far apart from the end goal with the task-force members and the folks who are involved with the task force. I’m excited to say there’s much alignment there. And where there are questions, we have had open dialogue, and we will continue to foster that open dialogue with members of that task force," Murphy Robinson, executive director of the Denver Department of Public Safety, said during an October 25 Denver City Council committee meeting at which he and other city officials laid out how Denver planned to respond to the 112 recommendations issued by the Task Force to Reimagine Policing and Public Safety.

"I am appreciative to the city council and Department of Public Safety that they're taking these recommendations seriously," says task force coordinator Robert Davis of the Greater Metro Denver Ministerial Alliance. Davis also praises District Attorney Beth McCann for continuously sending staffers to meet with the task force.

Aside from Davis, who spoke at the October 25 meeting, the task force includes such members as Xochitl Gaytan, who serves as co-chair of the Colorado Latino Forum, and Jill Locantore, executive director of WalkDenver.

In May, the task force issued recommendations that could result in major shifts for City of Denver policy. For example, the task force wants to see the establishment of an automatic-termination provision in cases "where life is lost at the hands of law enforcement where the victim was unarmed."

Another recommendation is that the Office of the Independent Monitor, the city's law enforcement watchdog, be made more powerful with subpoena power and "unfettered access to all departmental documents and systems."

The task force also recommended that Denver City Council and the Citizen Oversight Board gain appointment authority for the Independent Monitor position rather than have that power continue to rest with the mayor. City council members met the task force halfway on this recommendation, forwarding a charter change measure to voters to give the Citizen Oversight Board say in who becomes the Independent Monitor.

"We believe that all 112 recommendations are valid and should be considered and implemented," Davis said during the meeting, adding that the task force continues to meet on a monthly basis.
click to enlarge Robert Davis has been coordinating the task force. - EVAN SEMÓN
Robert Davis has been coordinating the task force.
Evan Semón
Robinson and other officials noted that the City of Denver had completed assessments on 30 percent of the recommendations, with a goal of finishing the list by mid-2022. The Department of Public Safety will soon set up an online dashboard with the list of recommendations, noting whether they've been accepted for implementation or denied.

In the meantime, Denver has already begun implementing certain recommendations. According to Robinson, the mayor's office wants to make sure the response to the recommendations is a "citywide approach."

The October 25 meeting brought out an unusually high number of key Hancock administration staffers. Aside from Robinson, Deputy Chief of Staff Evan Dreyer, Chief of Police Paul Pazen, Denver Fire Chief Desmond Fulton, City Attorney Kristin Bronson, Sheriff Elias Diggins, and Department of Human Services Executive Director Don Mares were all present. "It's not often you get almost the entire cabinet and their key executive staff in a committee hearing," Robinson said.

The Task Force to Reimagine Policing and Public Safety was set up after protests in the wake of George Floyd's death rocked Denver. Although city officials participated at meetings after the group was set up in the summer of 2020, in January Robinson withdrew all Public Safety personnel from the task force, complaining in an email to Davis that the other members had been handpicked by Davis and were "little more than a personal sounding board for political views and rhetoric." Robinson took particular issue with the fact that the task force leadership asked law enforcement personnel not to join a particular meeting in early January. Davis responded by arguing that task-force leadership had asked law enforcement not to participate so that participants could "speak freely about their thoughts." Davis also denied that he had handpicked members of the task force.

In the months after this public breakup, there was "radio silence" from the Department of Public Safety, Davis notes.

But since the task force issued its report in May, the group has met four times with Department of Public Safety officials, says Davis, who adds that he's feeling more encouraged by the rapport between the task force and city administration these days.

"While the negative things get the highlights and get the front page of the newspaper, I do want to commend the city for trying to think about how do we improve," Davis said at the October 25 meeting.

Still, he concludes, "The devil is always in the details as the task force's recommendations are considered by the city. It's important that as we start talking about the nuts and bolts, we have community engaged in the process."
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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.