Proposal to Put Independent Monitor's Office in Denver Charter Makes Ballot

Update: The Denver Justice Project's advocacy of a measure to add the Office of the Independent Monitor to the City of Denver charter — see our previous coverage below — paid off last night.

Following a DJP-backed rally in favor of the bill and testimony by supporters such as Alex Landau, who became a nationally known figure after he was beaten bloody by police during a traffic stop, the Denver City Council approved placing the proposal on the November ballot.

As a result, Denver voters will have a chance to cast a vote in favor of what organizer Amy Kafuuma refers to as "independent police oversight."

Here's how the Denver Justice Project described the outcome on its Facebook page:
In a 9-0 unanimous decision, the community achieved a huge victory today when city council voted to put inclusion of the Independent Monitor into the city charter on the November ballot. We had an incredible show of support from community as they turned out to rally outside and flood the council chambers. In fact, we had so much support that all speakers who signed up were all in favor of our resolution. In addition to several DJP members voicing their support to council, other organizations such as SURJ Denver, Colorado Latino Forum, the ACLU of Colorado and Val Flores of the Colorado Board of Education showed up and spoke out in solidarity. Now it's up to Denver voters to vote YES on including the Independent Monitor in the charter in November, and we have a lot of work to do to get the word out and continue to work to achieve police accountability. Thank you all for your support!
For more details about the plan, continue for our earlier report.

Original post, 7:59 a.m. August 15: At first blush, a proposed amendment to the Denver city charter seems unlikely to stir passions.

But including Denver's Office of the Independent Monitor in that document is important to the Denver Justice Project, which is planning a rally in favor of such a proposal at 4:30 p.m. today at the City and County Building. Afterward, attendees plan to pack the 6 p.m. Denver City Council meeting in order to demonstrate their support for putting the amendment on the November ballot.

Why? Amy Kafuuma, an organizer with the Denver Justice Project, explains that the measure is important for reasons tied to police accountability. In her words, "There's a need for independent police oversight — maybe now more than ever."

As noted by the DJP, the Office of the Independent Monitor, currently held by Nicholas Mitchell, is "the only independent entity in Denver responsible for overseeing the complaint and review process against Denver law enforcement. Without it, investigations into police misconduct and abuse would be controlled entirely by the police."

However, the office "currently exists under a city ordinance," Kafuuma points out, "so it's not as guaranteed that the office is going to be funded or stay funded. Say there's an economic downturn or funding issues. A future mayor could say, 'We can't afford to fund the Office of the Independent Monitor anymore.' And back in 2013, there were actually conversations with the mayor about doing away with it."

By putting the OIM in the city charter, Kafuuma continues, "it solidifies the office more, because the people voted to put it there. It would be funded just as the chief of police or the safety director are, and that strengthens the office. It puts the office in the position of being able to say, 'We're on par with you guys,' and that would really help if the police were being uncooperative with an investigation or something like that."

In committee votes, members of the city council have been "very supportive" of the amendment, Kafuuma points out. She hopes that will continue at tonight's council meeting, at which public comment on the proposal will be allowed.

The pre-meeting gathering is intended to "bring awareness to this bill and show a strong community presence," she notes. "I don't expect it to be confrontational. Past police abuse and concerns about future abuse will be part of the conversation, but the rally is more to show how much community support there is for this."

If the council signs off on the amendment, Denver voters will get a chance to have their say in November.

But success regarding this first step could present a significant challenge to the Denver Justice Project. After all, promoting the amendment will require the organization to convey the significance of what some may see as a mere technicality and/or bureaucratic paper-shuffling.

"We'll have to explain to people the difference between the ordinance and the city charter, because a lot of people might not be familiar with that," Kafuuma acknowledges. "It's one of our biggest challenges."

Click to access the Facebook events page for tonight's Rally for Stronger Police Accountability in Denver. Below, find the proposal as well as the Denver Sheriff Department's recommendation in favor of adding the Office of the Independent Monitor to the city charter.

Office of the Independent Monitor Proposal

Denver Sheriff Department OIM Recommendation

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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.
Contact: Michael Roberts