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Jess Vigil named to new Department of Safety position to oversee police discipline

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In an attempt to improve the public's trust in the police and the department's disciplinary review system, Manager of Safety Alex Martinez announced the creation of a new position within his office. Former district and country judge Jess Vigil will join the police review process as the deputy manager of police discipline. Beginning in April, Vigil will documents, offer recommendations and oversee disciplinary procedure during investigations in hopes of increasing accountability and efficiency.

Martinez began a press conference yesterday by hailing the Independent Monitor's most recent report as a success in which the Denver Police Department "did very well" this year. He then noted that he'd looked specifically for a candidate with litigation experience, stating he preferred someone who had previously acted as a judge. As a retired judge in the 17th Judicial District, Vigil has done both, serving in district court for thirteen years and seven in Adams County Court in addition to time as a private attorney and a public defender.

With the creation of the new position, the latest of many changes in the DPD's roster, Martinez and deputy manager Ashley Kilroy hope for added efficiency during disciplinary reviews and an additional viewpoint on the issues. Standing immediately in front of Police Chief Robert White, Martinez promised "better quality" in a "quicker fashion."

"There have been a lot of delays in the (review) process, where a case comes and needs to be reviewed in fifteen days," Martinez admitted yesterday. "Some of these cannot possibly be reviewed in that time." But now, with the addition of Vigil, he says, "We're going to do it in fifteen days, and we're going to do it because we'll be fully informed when that fifteen-day period commences."

The appointment is the newest addition in White's plan, with Martinez's assistance, to revitalize the police department. In February, he began with a plan to cut administrative jobs in favor of adding seventy officers to Denver streets. Vigil's appointment came at the same time as White and Martinez announced that Chief Mary Beth Klee, part of the DPD since 1983, will command the department's Internal Affairs bureau. Klee has already initiated a search for the twelve sergeants who will act as investigators below her. Her ability to do so is a recent addition to the job.

While White suggested both decisions are part of an effort to encourage the Denver community to place trust in its police officers, the announcements come only one day after another significant one: As of Monday evening, police officers Ricky Nixon and Kevin Devine, released from duty after allegations of police brutality at the Denver Diner in 2009, learned can return to the force even though city attorneys plan to appeal a Civil Service Commission decision to reinstate them.

Page down to continue reading about Jess Vigil and the Department of Safety's new approach to police discipline. Alexander Landau, beaten in an alleged race crime, has also returned to the public sphere to bring attention to the incident he faced three years ago. Nixon was also involved in Landau's case.

In 2011, Denver spent $1.34 million in settlements for police brutality cases. In his tenure as Denver's independent monitor, a job he left in December, Richard Rosenthal repeatedly questioned the police department's standards for investigating officer misconduct. The decision to appoint Klee, in particular, is mired in some controversy considering she publicly supported the officers involved in the Denver Diner incident, who were fired by Martinez's predecessor, Charles Garcia. During hearings, Klee was among a handful of supervisors who testified that the officers acted within their responsibilities to maintain public safety.

Is there a connection between the new position and the updates on a handful of high-profile police brutality cases in recent months? Martinez's answer is a firm no.

The need to create additional oversight in the arena of police discipline occurred to him and other officials months previously, he says, noting that it takes time to search for and hire a candidate. "And specific coincidence in that timing is precisely that," Martinez says. "It is absolutely absurd to suggest it is anything else."

Following questions regarding Klee's Denver Diner opinions, Martinez and White responded by stopping the questions and reconfirming their faith in her tenure and abilities. "If five of us got in a room and discussed the case, we very well might have five different decisions," White says. Klee did not address the topic.

In the meantime, White acknowledged both "perception issues" and "reality issues" in how citizens view the DPD's ability to discipline its officers, which he says Vigil was brought in to help smooth. At present, he is aware that many observers see Klee's institution, Internal Affairs, as consistently sympathetic to the officers under investigation. "The community is not going to be working with us if they're questioning our ability to manage ourselves," White says. "There's a small faction of this community that questions our ability to discipline ourselves."

More from our News archive: "Police brutality: Witness upset Denver Diner cops to be back on street."

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