The Denver Police Department has begun discussion based on a new “Tactical Use of Force” draft that was released in January. This is the latest step in many, as Police Chief Robert White, continues his mission of “changing the culture of the department.
It is no secret that the department has been highly scrutinized over the years, and has had tumultuous relationship with the Denver community. The DPD has been marred by questions regarding excessive force.
The city has been forced to pay well over $20 million since 2004, simply settling with citizens over policing mistakes not only in public, but in the penal system too. Chief White, who arrived at the department five years ago, says he’s instilling a change in the department that will redirect its course, as well as its community relationship.
On Feb. 4, the department held a community meeting in order to gauge what people thought about the draft and whether amendments were needed. This was the third of three meetings relating to the draft. The public has been concerned with the lack of community involvement the police were allowing, especially in terms of crafting policy. The meeting took place at the Red Shield Center, 2915 High St, in a packed gymnasium at which both Chief White and a Denver deputy sheriff hosted.
White and the deputy supplied community members with copies of the draft, and a condensed version highlighting the main points of each section. The three-hour meeting began with a presentation from Chief White explaining DPD force policy, and his vision for changing a “progressive police department.” This was followed by questions from the audience and a break down into small groups where suggestions could be submitted to strengthen the policy.
Chief White says takes responsibility for being in charge of the department and considers it his personal duty to continue to change the conditions and attitudes within the force. He wants to make sure all officers are accountable, and held to an extremely high standard that goes beyond their basic obligations. He would like to make sure that these standards are upheld internally and ring true through every rung of the police hierarchy. He says, “All officers need to be making sure their actions are legal, necessary, appropriate and reasonable.”
Anytime an officer cannot clearly articulate why their actions do hold up against the merits of these standards, White says, they should be punished swiftly and justly. These standards become even more crucial if force is involved, especially in cases where it leads to significant bodily harm or fatal injuries.
Chief White says he wants to raise the bar on officers, and sometimes he feels as if he is met with resistance in his efforts to create and maintain a progressive police department.
In aliberal leaning city like Denver transparency is a must and focusing on fairness is paramount said an attendee. Others felt that in comparison to states with similar demographics such as Washington, Colorado has a much higher propensity to have police shootings especially involving minorities. These types of issues and other abuses of power have created a deep mistrust between the department and the people they protect and serve.
This is a wound Chief White hopes to heal by having opportunities these series of meetings, which allows the community to both listen and be heard. White acknowledged that the department has made some mistakes over the years, but we must move forward in a more positive direction he says.
The new “Use of Force” draft was developed through police officials hosting hundreds of meetings and speaking with thousands of people throughout Denver to get a sample of what people wanted and needed from the police regarding use of force. The policy, however, is still a draft with much potential for fine-tuning as it has been highly scrutinized by the media and members of the community.
Many community members in attendance were concerned with who are the people contributing to the drafting of the policy? The felt as though influential members in the community should have been given more say in the initial crafting phases of the draft. There was strongpush back on much of the language in document, many finding it too vague and concerned that this would always lean towards the authority of the officer.
The draft contains words such as “justified” and “reasonable,” which left many feeling officers would too easily be able to articulate why they were righteous in their actions and the public would be left defenseless, because they would have the backing of the policy. Several lawyers in attendance were disappointed and unsatisfied with the language in the policy, and they would feel comfortable with it being finalized until that was changed.
People also voiced concerns over the policy being a smoke and mirrors ploy that would not solve any of the deeper issues plaguing the relationship between the public and the police. Issues such as gentrification and poorly trained officers cannot be resolved by simply putting out a new use of force agreement. Several people attending the meeting said the police make them feel less safe and have they no regards for the rights as citizens. Chief White acknowledged their concerns, but was wary of the relationship between the community and the police becoming overly combative thus counter-productive.
Almost everyone agreed that the monitor was a great institution and spoke of it glowing terms. One older Denver resident said, “He had the utmost faith and respect for the independent monitor.” It is, however, still up to us, the public, to hold officials accountable, and it is reassuring to know that Chief White is interested in listening and closing the gap between the people and the police.