Denver Police Chief Robert White will replace the head of the Internal Affairs Bureau and the division's staff in an attempt to heal police relations with the public and improve investigations into police misconduct.
He announced the changes Tuesday, part of an ongoing shake-up of a department rattled by allegations of police brutality and questions about the adequacy of internal investigations of officers.
During the same news conference, Manager of Safety Alex Martinez, who oversees Denver's Sheriff, Fire and Police departments, named retired Judge John Jess Vigil, 59, to a new position: deputy manager of police discipline.
In his new job, Vigil, who served on the Adams County Court and District Court for the 17th Judicial District, will oversee investigations of police and command-staff reviews of the cases before they go to Martinez, who makes the final determination on discipline.
Before he left his position as Denver's independent monitor in December, Richard Rosenthal issued a report questioning the ability of police to investigate cases of officer misconduct. Rosenthal, who monitored internal investigations, frequently recommended discipline in excessive-force cases that was tougher than officers had been subject to before he arrived in 2005.
White said questions raised by Rosenthal played a part in his decision to shake up internal affairs.
While he praised the work done by current internal-affairs Cmdr. John Burbach and his staff and said Burbach was instrumental in implementing new discipline regulations, White said there is a perception among some people that internal affairs sides with cops.
The public won't cooperate with police if residents don't believe internal affairs is capable of unbiased investigations, White said.
He appointed Division Chief Mary Beth Klee, 53, a 29-year veteran of the department, to head the Internal Affairs Bureau. Officers now handling internal-affairs investigations will be replaced by 12 sergeants whom she will pick.
"I have already developed a list of sergeant investigators, men and women I know that have integrity, honorable people that care about the Police Department and the perception that people have of it," she said.
Martinez said he expects the appointment of Vigil to decrease the amount of time it takes to reach a decision on discipline meted out to officers.
Rosenthal set a goal of resolving 95 percent of all complaints lodged against police within 150 days of the date they were received. Last year, the time to resolve complaints tumbled to 69 days from 106 days in 2010.
Martinez, a former state Supreme Court justice, and White, who previously headed the Louisville, Ky., Police Department, were appointed after Mayor Michael Hancock was sworn in last July.
Martinez said he was happy with the improvement in complaint resolution, adding that even as the time needed to complete investigations has dropped, the number of terminations and suspensions of more than 10 days has risen.
"But Chief White and I didn't come aboard to be satisfied with the past," Martinez said. "We are here and determined to make significant improvements in the Department of Safety and Police Department, particularly in this important area of police discipline."
As part of his reorganization, White plans to eliminate a layer of senior administration and reassign some or all of the commanders in the city's six districts, replacing some of them by promoting lower-ranking officers.
He has said he will boost the number of officers available to patrol the streets by as many as 70 men and women, but that will happen over time and depend on the department's budget.
White said he will move those new patrol officers into the divisions by reassigning some members of specialized units, such as the gang bureau, and hiring civilians to handle some jobs now held by cops.
The changes will increase accountability, make the department more responsive to residents and improve its ability to fight crime, he has said.
Tom McGhee: 303-954-1671 or firstname.lastname@example.org