On December 10, the Department of Public Safety held a community meeting to learn more about what citizens want in their next sheriff. But only about fifteen people attended the meeting at the St. Francis Center, a day shelter located on the 2300 block of Curtis Street.
Michael Sapp, a community liaison for the Department of Public Safety, chalked up the sparse attendance to the fact that the meeting kicked off at 7 p.m., which is when many of those using the services of the day shelter head to night shelters.
"We’ll be coming back during the day,” Sapp said.
But similar meetings held at other locations and times have also been sparsely attended. At one such meeting that Councilman Chris Hinds held for his constituents on December 17 at the Central Library, a dozen people showed up, including Hinds, two of his aides, three sheriff's union representatives, and this Westword reporter.
The conversations at both meetings Westword attended were robust and enlightening. At the city-organized meeting on December 10, participants spoke about wanting a compassionate, mental health-oriented, community-facing sheriff. At Hinds's meeting, participants discussed the pros and cons of having an elected versus a mayor-appointed sheriff, an initiative that Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca is pushing for the November 2020 ballot. Small as the sample pool may be, the community feedback that city and elected officials are gathering will inform Mayor Michael Hancock as he picks the next sheriff.
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The first question at the December 10 community meeting came from a participant who said he'd been homeless for the past six months. He wanted to know what the sheriff, a lower-profile law enforcement head than the chief of police, actually does. Once city officials explained the sheriff's role as the overseer of Denver's jails, the man said his ideal pick would be versed in mental health care. On any given day, half of the inmates in Denver jails are dealing with a mental health issue. Many are also homeless.
The city's last sheriff, Patrick Firman, lasted four years on the job but never earned the support of deputies. During his tenure, the city paid out large legal settlements for use-of-force incidents and mishaps in the city's jails.
If CdeBaca's initiative, which needs support of city council before landing on the citywide ballot, succeeds, voters will pick the sheriff for the City and County of Denver. But can voters pick a better sheriff than the mayor can? Do they even care?
In June 2019, Paul Lopez beat Peg Perl by less than 400 votes in the Denver Clerk and Recorder race. The slim margin made the race particularly dramatic, but what was most astounding about this race was that the nearly 21,000 people who submitted their ballots simply didn't vote for a clerk and recorder.