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Denver abuse-of-force policy headed toward overhaul in fits and starts

There are two major players when it comes to Denver’s use-of-force (UoF) practices: the Denver Sheriff and the Denver Police Chief. Both are appointed by the Mayor, although it’s common for the Sheriff to be an elected position. In Denver, both have been at the center of efforts to make their respective departments’ policies more human and effective.

Sheriff’s Dept Responds to National Outcry and Local Scandals

The Sheriff’s Department, with jurisdiction over the City and County of Denver, employs approximately 800 employees, operating “two separate jails, security for the District and County court systems, state inmate transportation, extradition duties, fugitive and K-9 units, a community corrections and work release facility, and security at Denver Health & Medical Center.”

The Denver Sheriff’s Department was the first in Denver to tackle use-of-force policy reform. The reform process included commissioning consultants for an independent investigation and the appointment of a new Sheriff by the Mayor. Patrick Ferman, was appointed in early 2015 as Sheriff, took on the Sheriff Department’s spearheaded use-of-force policy reform efforts early in his tenure.

There was very little community involvement in the policy change, which transpired over the summer of 2016.

Police Department UoF Policy Slower to Change

Efforts by Denver Police Chief Robert White (appt 2011 by Mayor Michael Hancock) has faced much more scrutiny. It’s a significantly larger department than the Sheriff’s, with approx 1400 sworn officers (as of 2014), and presumably many more non-uniformed personnel, compared to the Sheriff Department’s 800.

Here’s a timeline of developments on the UoF policy.

Chief White Announces Intentions to Update Policy (Fall 2016)

Chief White Releases Proposed UoF Policy (January 2017)

Chief White Faces Scrutiny for Lack of Community Involvement (Jan — Feb 2017)

White Announces Move to Involve Community and Union in Policy Development (Feb 2017)

As a side note, Phillips’ July 3rd article references that one upset for the advisory board was the replacement of a retired officer serving as adviser to the group with Denver’s Senior Chief Deputy District Attorney S. Lamar Sims. Sims attracted national attention for his pro-police expert report on Cleveland police officers’ actions in the Tamir Rice case. Both the Denver Post and GQ articles below are great reads on how Justice was undermined in the Rice case.

Advisory Group Presents Recommendations (Fall 2017)

Follow Up

After the advisory group shared recommendations, Chief White had promised a response early in 2018. He is expected to share a formal response with the advisory committee on Wednesday, June 20th, 2018.

Recent High Profile Abuse of Force Cases in Denver

Jamal Hunter (involving Sheriff’s Dept)

Marvin Booker (involving Sheriff’s Dept)

Jessica Hernandez (involving Police Dept)

17-year-old shot and killed by police in July 2015.

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