Excessive force complaints far fewer than commendations, says Denver Police spokesman

Even though Denver's crime rate is going down, excessive force against the Denver Police Department cause continue to stir debate, as in the cases of Alexander Landau and Michael DeHerrera.

In an effort to counter the impression of a department out of control, the DPD has issued a fact sheet on view below showing that throughout 2010, officer commendations far exceeded complaints about cops.

According to DPD spokesman Lieutenant Matt Murray, the fact sheet represents an effort to reconcile data between the department and the Office of the Independent Monitor, headed by Richard Rosenthal.

"If Richard walked into a city council hearing tomorrow and reported on the numbers he has in his office, and then we walked in two hours later, the numbers might look different," Murray notes.

Why? The distinction between when an incident happened and when a complaint was filed accounts for some discrepancies -- but other factors can throw things off, too. "Let's say six officers go on a call, and three get complaints against them for four different things -- so is that twelve complaints or four complaints or one complaint?" Murray asks. "So that's one reason we did this. We want to provide the public and city council with accurate numbers that we all agree on and that reflect what's occurring, and to do that, we needed to have all the same numbers at the same time."

Of course, there's a public relations aspect to the fact sheet as well. According to the statistics, the Denver Police Department responded to over 465,000 calls for service in 2010, "and less than two-thirds of 1 percent wound up in complaints," Murray says. "And that's not even necessarily sustained complaints. That's just someone coming in and making an accusation."

For instance, fact-sheet graphics document 39 complaints in December, with 33 of those coming from citizens, adding up to a total of seventy allegations; as noted in the fine print, some complaints include multiple allegations. Of those 39 complaints, investigations were declined in 21 of them -- just over half because no misconduct was found, with mediation the most common alternate outcome.

Moreover, Murray says, "the ratio of commendations to contacts is twice as high as complaints to contacts. In 2010, the ratio of commendations to calls for service was one in 431 and complaints was one in 930."

Of course, a sizable number of those commendations were generated by the department itself -- but the fact sheet also lists citizen letters of appreciation, hotline compliments and the like.

Denver Police Chief Gerald Whitman has asked for these fact sheets to be generated on a monthly basis, Murray points out, and while the information is public, there's no plan in place to send them to the media on a regular basis -- which would seem to defeat part of the purpose. But Whitman wants to keep seeing them because, Murray says, "if we see a spike or some trend, we want to deal with it immediately."

Here's the fact sheet for 2010, with particular focus on December:

More from our Colorado Crimes archive: "Police misconduct: Denver ranks number one in terms of excessive force complaints."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
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