A year and a half after a community task force published recommendations for how the City of Denver can transform its approach to policing and public safety, the city has released its final responses to those recommendations.
"It’s clear that the objective of the task force was to facilitate more community-focused policing and public safety," Ron Thomas, the newly confirmed Denver police chief, said at an October 19 Denver City Council Safety, Housing, Education and Homelessness Committee
meeting, during which officials presented the city's responses to the 112 recommendations made by the Denver Task Force to Reimagine Policing and Public Safety
in May 2021.
The administration of Mayor Michael Hancock
has had a checkered relationship with the task force. Shortly after the protests propelled by the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police wound down, the city agreed to establish a task force that would look into the city's approach to public safety. Led by Robert Davis of the Greater Metro Denver Ministerial Alliance, it included representatives from numerous organizations, including the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, the Harm Reduction Action Center and the Denver branch of the NAACP.
In January 2021, however, then-Executive Director of Public Safety Murphy Robinson pulled all law enforcement officials from the task force
, saying that the group was marginalizing law enforcement voices.
In December 2021, Robinson announced that he was resigning his public safety post. His successor, Armando Saldate, subsequently made a point of re-engaging with the task force, particularly the group's coordinator, Davis. "He was the first call I made upon getting the appointment to the directorship position," Saldate said at the October 19 meeting.
"Director Saldate has been really good about reaching out to us and is really genuinely interested in our input moving forward," notes Melanie Kesner, a policy analyst for the task force. "I feel good about the channels of communication being open."
Over the next few weeks, those channels should be busy as the task force considers the city's final responses to its 112 recommendations; Denver has already declined to implement seventeen outright.
"For the ones that Denver says that they can’t implement, we’re digging into that to find a way that they can implement or rework the recommendation," says Kesner.
The reasons for denying those seventeen are laid out in a public-facing dashboard
One task force recommendation was to "require and publicize an annual, full inventory of all DPD weapons, munitions, chemicals, SWAT gear, body cams, tanks, vehicles." This recommendation was closely linked to the George Floyd protests; during the protests, the Denver Police Department
and other law enforcement agencies had at times responded aggressively and excessively, sometimes using less-lethal munitions, tear gas and pepper spray on the protesters.
In the aftermath, the Office of the Independent Monitor
issued a report
critical of how law enforcement had dealt with protesters, including how less-lethal munitions were deployed and monitored.
The DPD says that it has since "strengthened and improved its gear and equipment inventory processes during large-scale response events." However, the Department of Public Safety won't be publicizing an annual, full inventory of "all DPD weapons, munitions, chemicals, SWAT gear, body cams, tanks, vehicles," it reports on the dashboard. "Detailed inventories regarding weapons, munitions, equipment, and materials contain sensitive details that, if released publicly, could compromise officer safety and ability to address public safety situations necessitating the deployment of lethal and less lethal weapons or personal protective gear."
Kesner suggests a compromise: The DPD could issue a report to Denver City Council in an executive briefing, which would prevent councilmembers from sharing specific numbers and inventories with the public. "Taxpayers are paying for the equipment," she notes. "Having them present to city council and having that information for an executive briefing would be really helpful."
Another recommendation from the task force was to "remove the Internal Affairs Bureau from within the Denver Police Department and merge it with the Public Integrity Division responsible for investigations of both police and sheriffs.”
While the Internal Affairs Bureau is made up of DPD officers who investigate claims of misconduct within the police department, the Public Integrity Division is composed of non-sworn law enforcement employees and investigates claims of malfeasance within the Denver Sheriff Department.
But the Department of Public Safety
, which houses the police and sheriff departments, declined to implement this recommendation, citing its belief that the PID and IAB are adequate as the initial reviewers of misconduct within each of the departments. There are also further checks on disciplinary complaints by the Citizen Oversight Board, the two department chiefs, the Independent Monitor and the executive director of Public Safety. "Given this robust system, which adheres to the legal and operational requirements that are in place, the Executive Branch declines to adopt this Recommendation," the dashboard states.
Another recommendation the city has declined to implement was ensuring "appropriate resourcing for the Office of the Independent Monitor by guaranteeing an annual budget appropriation that is proportionate to the entities the Monitor investigates at a minimum of two percent of their total budgets." The recommendation was designed to protect the power of the Independent Monitor from a potential rogue mayor.
But the Hancock administration let the task force know that the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights and City Charter prevent the executive branch from guaranteeing an annual budget appropriation.
"No Mayor may bind a future mayor to a budget and no Council may bind a future council to a budget as it would be an impermissible limit on future authority," the dashboard reads. "The Office of the Independent Monitor is an independent agency and goes through the same steps and processes as other agencies for their annual funding."
The task force plans to issue its responses to this final list by the end of the year. But it has work to do in the meantime.
Since longtime Independent Monitor Nick Mitchell resigned in January 2021 to take a new gig overseeing reform in L.A. County jails, Denver has been without a permanent law enforcement watchdog, with interim monitor Gregg Crittenden filling the role. The initial search was delayed until voters approved a measure in November 2021 that gave the nine members of the Citizen Oversight Board — four of whom are appointed by the mayor, four by city council, and one jointly by the mayor and city council — authority to choose the Independent Monitor. But the search has been slowed by stops and starts, with none of the three finalists chosen by the COB drawing much excitement in community meetings. The COB reopened the application process in March.