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.
- Consultants uncover deep problems within Denver Sheriff Department (Noelle Phillips, The Denver Post: May 20, 2015)
- As Denver tackles sheriff’s reform, a key piece is missing (Noelle Phillips, The Denver Post: May 21, 2016)
- Denver sheriff getting down to business after six months in office: Patrick Firman has the reputation as a nice guy, but critics wonder if he can move department ahead (Noelle Phillips, The Denver Post: May 29, 2016)
- Denver Cops Change Shooting-at-Moving-Vehicles Policy After Hernandez Decision (Michael Roberts, Westworld: June 9, 2015)
- Denver sheriff overhauls use-of-force policy, requires “verbal judo” to avoid conflict (Noelle Phillips, The Denver Post: June 16, 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)
- Denver Police Department is rewriting its use-of-force policy: Denver Police Chief Robert White says officers will be expected to demonstrate emotional intelligence (Noelle Phillips, The Denver Post: October 26, 2016)
Chief White Releases Proposed UoF Policy (January 2017)
- Denver Police Department pursues new use-of-force policy (Noelle Phillips, The Denver Post: January 4, 2017)
- Denver police decide to hold community meetings about revised use-of-force policy: Denver Police Chief Robert White has scheduled three community meetings over the next month (Noelle Phillips, The Denver Post: January 6, 2017)
Chief White Faces Scrutiny for Lack of Community Involvement (Jan — Feb 2017)
- Experts give mixed reviews to Denver Police Department’s proposed use-of-force policy: The proposed policy stresses de-escalation and limits on using weapons against people (Noelle Phillips, The Denver Post: January 23, 2017). Phillips briefly contrasts White’s proposal against recommendations from the International Association of Chiefs of Police’s (IACP) National Consensus Policy on Use of Force and also outlines police union’s concerns.
- Six Changes Activists Want Made in Denver Police’s Use-of-Force Draft Policy (Michael Roberts, Westworld: January 27, 2017)
- Community calls for more involvement and greater clarity in Denver police use-of-force policy (Danika Worthington, The Denver Post: January 28, 2017)
- Denver Police’s New Use Of Force Policy Draws Praise And Criticism (Anthony Cotton, Colorado Public Radio: January 31, 2017).
- In e-mails about Denver’s police use-of-force policy, ideas ranged from absurd to idealistic (Noelle Phillips, The Denver Post: February 20, 2017)
White Announces Move to Involve Community and Union in Policy Development (Feb 2017)
- Denver police chief reverses course, plans to invite outside voices to finalize new use-of-force policy (Noelle Phillips, The Denver Post: February 27, 2017).
- Denver Police Chief Robert White is inviting a few community members to advise him about use of force. Here’s who he asked. (Noelle Phillips, The Denver Post: April 14, 2017).
- Use of force advisory board for Denver police struggles with rocky start (Noelle Phillips, The Denver Post: July 3, 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.
- Denver prosecutor’s report on Cleveland police shooting draws fire
(Tom McGhee, The Denver Post: October 13, 2015)
- The Tamir Rice Story: How to Make a Police Shooting Disappear (Sean Flynn, The Denver Post: July 14, 2016)
Advisory Group Presents Recommendations (Fall 2017)
- Proposed policy seeks tougher limits on how Denver cops can use force (Noelle Phillips, The Denver Post: October 31, 2017)
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)
- Jamal Hunter sues city after fellow inmates scald his genitals” (Michael Roberts, Westworld: September 13, 2012)
- “New video shows Denver jail deputy choking non-combative inmate (Jamal Hunter)” (Kirk Mitchell, The Denver Post: June 13, 2014)
- “Jamal Hunter contemplates future both with scars and $3.25 million” (Kirk Mitchell, The Denver Post: July 23, 2014)
Marvin Booker (involving Sheriff’s Dept)
- Key defense witness in Marvin Booker jail death contradicts herself (Kirk Mitchell, The Denver Post: September 23, 2014)
- Denver to pay $6 million in Marvin Booker jail death settlement (Noelle Phillips, The Denver Post: November 26, 2014)
Jessica Hernandez (involving Police Dept)
17-year-old shot and killed by police in July 2015.
- Denver spent $14.5 million to settle lawsuits against police and sheriff in just 3 years: Total payouts for those departments match the sum paid by the city over the decade prior to 2014 (Jon Murray, The Denver Post: April 20, 2017)
- Denver Council approves $265,000 to settle police lawsuits: $185,000 would settle a case where man was shoved by cop outside a LoDo bar (Noelle Phillips, The Denver Post: April 28, 2017)
- Are Denver Cops Using Body-Camera Video Like a Cheat Sheet? (Michael Roberts, Westworld: November 29, 2017)
- Two cities: Denver and Sacramento. Two police shootings. Two different stances on public access to video footage: Denver has resisted a push to create a policy for releasing police video footage while Sacramento requires it under city law (Noelle Phillips, The Denver Post: April 2, 2018)
- Denver Police Chief Robert White will retire and be replaced from within the department: The chief has been telling people that he has given notice to the mayor but hasn’t made his departure date public (Noelle Phillips, The Denver Post: April 24, 2018)
- Should Colorado cops be forced to open internal affairs cases to the public? Advocates back a bill to improve accountability: Denver is the only jurisdiction that routinely provides access to internal case files (Noelle Phillips, The Denver Post: April 30, 2018)
- Denver police officer charged with beating handcuffed suspect in bar basement: Suspect was belligerent, allegedly spat in Cpl. Michael Oestmann’s face after a barroom fight at Jackson’s in LoDo (Noelle Phillips and Kirk Mitchell, The Denver Post: May 11, 2018)
- Denver police officer suspended for improperly using restraint to hog-tie unruly man: Three others reprimanded for failing to activate their body cameras (Noelle Phillips, The Denver Post: June 13, 2018)
- DPD Beating Victim Alex Landau on Outgoing Chief, Hopes for Next One (Michael Roberts, Westworld: June 12, 2018)
- Here Are the Complaints Against and Disciplinary Records of Police Chief Candidates (Nora Olabi, Westworld: June 14, 2018)
- Denver needs an elected sheriff, free of political influence, activists say (Adam McCoy, Colorado Politics: January 16, 2018).