Cop chief is priority for Mayor

The Colorado Statesman

As Denver Mayor Michael Hancock approaches a decision on hiring a new police chief, dozens of residents let the mayor know what kind of chief they’d like him to pick at a town hall on Monday night at Manual High School.

“We hope the person you select will have sensitivity to all the communities you represent in Denver,” said the Rev. Timothy Tyler, pastor of the Shorter Community AME Church, one of about 20 residents who trooped to a microphone to tell a selection committee what Denver needs in its new top cop.

Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Alex Martinez, who takes over as Denver’s public safety manager at the end of the month, addresses a crowd at a town hall designed to get input from the public on Denver’s next police chief held at Manual High School on Oct. 3. A six-member panel is reviewing 61 applications for the job and plans to make a recommendation to Mayor Michael Hancock by the end of the month.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“We hope we will have an opportunity to sit down and to develop a relationship before trouble hits, so that when trouble hits, we’ll be able to talk openly and honestly with each other about what we need to do to make sure that law enforcement does their job taking care of citizens and not abusing citizens,” Tyler said.

Hancock — along with virtually all the other candidates for mayor in this spring’s election — said that replacing longtime Chief Gerry Whitman was a top priority upon taking office. Whitman’s tenure has been capped by a stream of accusations of police brutality, fueled by sensational videotapes that show Denver officers beating suspects and bystanders.

A spokeswoman for Hancock said the mayor hopes to name a new chief by late October or early November. A six-member panel is sifting through 61 applications and hasn’t chosen any finalists yet for the job, which pays $162,000 annually, an amount set by the city charter.

Why the glum faces? City Attorney Doug Friednash and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock listen to members of the public with concerns about the city’s next police chief at a town hall meeting held Oct. 3 at Manual High School. Both Friednash and Hancock are Manual graduates.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Soon after he was inaugurated, Hancock hired the Washington, D.C.-based Police Executive Research Forum to perform a national search for the post. The contract will cost the city between $39,500 and $65,000, depending on the number of candidates brought to Denver for interviews.

“Know that we’re going to do the very best we can to find the very best chief of police for the City of Denver,” Hancock told the crowd of about 70 at the public forum. “We owe it to you and we owe it to our police officers.”

The same day Hancock held the town hall, Denver City Council OK’d payment of a $225,000 settlement to a man who charged he was assaulted by a Denver police officer, only the latest in a string of settlements that has cost the city more than $1 million this year alone.

Maria and Tony Lee, parents of murdered teenager Kenia Monge, address a panel tasked with hiring Denver’s next police chief at a town hall on Oct. 3 at Manual High School.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Noting that she appreciated the public forum but hoped that it signals an honest commitment to transparency in police operations and “doesn’t serve as window dressing,” Barbara Cohn told the panel to “look for a chief who will not accept lying in the department by any police officer, ever.”

She urged officials to move the department’s Internal Affairs division outside the police building so people making reports “aren’t afraid that the police are going to intimidate them.”

Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Alex Martinez, who takes over as Hancock’s new manager of public safety — overseeing the police, sheriff and fire departments — at the end of the month, told the crowd that recent attention to brutality cases shouldn’t cloud public perception of a proud department.

“It is not the major story of what the police have done in the last 10 years,” Martinez said.

“I think we have a fine police department in very many basic ways, and we need to build on that for the future,” Martinez told The Colorado Statesman.

Martinez said the last time he oversaw a public event in the Manual High auditorium, he had been wielding a gavel while hearing oral arguments before the Supreme Court.

Along with “Discipline & Accountability,” community members put the most notes under the heading “Restore Trust” when asked to designate which qualities were most important for Denver’s next police chief at a town hall on the subject held Oct. 3 at Manual High School. “The new police chief must also value honesty and demand it of themselves and all officers. Police reports must not be fabricated,” reads one note.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“This is like getting out in the real public and being able to talk about anything people want to talk about,” he said. “This is really where the rubber meets the road, and I’m anxious to be there because I’ve been in a different arena for a long time.”

After the residents at the town hall meeting were asked to vote for qualities they want the new chief to embody by placing notes under various headings, the boards for “Restore Trust” and “Discipline & Accountability” were nearly full.

“The new police chief must also value honesty and demand it of themselves and all officers. Police reports must not be fabricated,” one note instructed. “No lying,” said another.

Derek Blass said the next chief should plan on instituting regular psychological testing of officers. No one joins the force intending to eventually snap, Blass said, but the fresh young recruits who pass psychological muster soon face tremendous pressure. “Over time,” Blass said, “due to situations, they can become a menace.”

West-sider lawyer Amber Tafoya said she believes Denver cops need to work harder to keep their ties to the neighborhoods they patrol. She said an officer recently told her he was moving out of her neighborhood because it no longer felt safe.

“We want them to stay in our neighborhoods,” Tafoya said. “We want them to build them up with us. We want a chief willing to live in our neighborhoods.”

She added that she has mixed feelings about what to tell a young relative in her own neighborhood — whether to revere the uniform or to be cautious around police “who are too busy chasing down our kids to investigate our crimes.”

The culture, Tafoya said, needs to change, and that will happen when the chief makes it a priority.

“We need someone who knows us, understands us and doesn’t see our kids as a threat, is willing to investigate and is willing to be a part of our community,” she said.

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com