Two months after taking office, Denver police chief Robert White promised a group of Hispanic leaders that a restructuring of the department will promote community outreach and facilitate the prosecution of cases of police misconduct.
White was the keynote speaker at a "community dialogue" organized by the Consulate General of Mexico in Denver on February 27 in their offices.
White was joined by Justice Alex Martinez, Denver's manager of public safety, and Guillermo "Bill" Vidal, president of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metro Denver and former mayor of that city.
Also present were the consuls general of Mexico, Andres Chao; of Peru, Ambassador Guido Loyza; and of Guatemala, Ana Patricia Ramirez, and more than 30 lawyers, educators, social workers and religious leaders.
White acknowledged that the Denver Police Department should be more effective in preventing crimes, but, he said, it should also be acknowledged that Denver is the tenth safest city in the country, in terms of number of crimes per person, among cities of similar size.
"Our goal is that Denver be the safest city in the country. Sometimes we set goals that are unattainable. But in this case I believe that is a goal we can achieve," said White.
To that end, he said, in the coming weeks a restructuring will begin of the local police department, including the appointment of new commanders, the implementation of a new system of leadership training and sending more officers to each of the six patrol districts in Denver.
"We will also create new opportunities to cooperate with the residents of Denver and to earn the trust of those residents," he said.
These new opportunities include monthly public meetings in each of the districts, implementation of citizen policing systems (for blocks or neighborhoods), a civilian police academy, and a new hotline to anonymously share information with police.
"Nothing will be achieved with all these reforms and police training unless we cooperate with the community," said White.
As part of that cooperation and outreach, especially among Hispanics, White promised to improve the relationship that police officers assigned to schools have with students.
"I do not think that the answer to crime is to arrest more people. We won't solve crime by arresting more young people. Our goal is that these young people do not get into the juvenile justice system, because if they do, they always carry a social stigma that is very difficult to overcome," said White.
To change the relationship between school police and students, each precinct should adopt at least one school, so that the district's officers interact with students, for example, in reading classes, something beyond the context in which an officer might have to intervene to maintain or restore order.
White also seeks to simplify the process of receiving and processing complaints of police misconduct, including not only the use of excessive force but also "conduct legal but unnecessary."
White noted that the current process is slow, complicated and multi-tiered, so even in cases of aggravated police misconduct the resolution of the case can take months or years, and the final decision may not correspond with the recommendations of the chief of police or the manager of public safety in Denver.
Justice Martinez explained that part of the problem with respect to allegations of police misconduct is the fact that the system to fire an officer is relatively new, as is the new police disciplinary code. Therefore, neither system can be applied to previous cases.
"At the same time, neither the police chief nor the manager of safety is solely in charge of police discipline. This is a procedure that we are now trying to simplify and accelerate for consistency between the different levels of decision-making," said Martinez.
Vidal, speaking on behalf of the local Latino business community, emphasized that "everyone in the community should have a great respect for our police department. But we must also remember that this is a country governed by law, not by those who take the law into their own hands. If Denver officials can fire someone for writing bogus parking tickets, it must also be possible to dismiss a police officer who fails in his or her duty."