After interviewing finalists for the Denver sheriff's job that's been open since Patrick Firman resigned last fall, a city search committee decided on May 15 to reopen the application process.
The decision to allow new applications was made so that committee members could ensure that "they have a varied group of qualified individuals to forward to the mayor for his consideration," according to Kelli Christensen, a spokesperson for the Denver Department of Public Safety, which houses the Denver Sheriff Department.
Christensen had previously said that Mayor Michael Hancock would likely choose the new permanent sheriff, who is responsible for management of city jails and courtroom security, by late May or early June. But that timeline may now stretch past that date. "Due to the Sheriff Selection Committee’s decision to re-post the position, we do not have a new timeline just yet," Christensen acknowledges.
The committee has considered candidates from inside the sheriff department as well as law enforcement professionals from around Colorado and in other states.
The main deputy sheriffs' union in Denver has endorsed Elias Diggins, a high-ranking sheriff's department official and past acting sheriff, to become permanent sheriff. "We believe he has the most experience out of anyone in our agency to run the department," says union president Mike Jackson.
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While Diggins is a known entity, the identities of other candidates remain unknown, and city officials want to keep the applicant list confidential. In fact, members of the search committee have been tight-lipped about the entire selection process, with many not responding to multiple requests for comment.
One person who definitely won't be in the running is Fran Gomez, the current acting sheriff, who withdrew her application, saying that she preferred to leave the role open to someone who better understands the business of "sheriffing." Although Gomez has had a lengthy career in law enforcement, most of her work has been as a police officer and a commander.
But although she has taken herself out of the running for the sheriff's job, Gomez hopes to stay on with the department — perhaps in an undersheriff position that the Hancock administration is considering creating.
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"It’s possible," she acknowledges, "but the new sheriff would have to create an undersheriff position — if they even want an undersheriff — and then would have to select me to fill that position. I’m not sure either of those things will happen. It depends on who is selected as sheriff."
But whether she's chosen or not, Gomez says she approves of the concept of an undersheriff. "I think it’s a great idea. The Denver Police Department and Denver Fire Department both have deputy chief positions — same as an undersheriff for a sheriff’s department — and I certainly could’ve used that position during my time as interim sheriff," she says.
Denver hasn't had a permanent sheriff since October 2019, when Firman stepped down. When Firman took the job in 2015, the Hancock administration hailed him as a reformer who would fix the problems in the city's jails that had led to costly lawsuit settlements, but lawsuits continued to pile up during his tenure. He now has another six-figure job with the city.
Denver is also currently operating with interim heads in the Department of Public Safety and the Denver Fire Department; the top positions of both were vacated earlier this year.