Denver police weapons purchases could stay secret before DNC

The public may never know what weapons and other equipment Denver police are buying with taxpayer money in preparation for the Democratic National Convention (DNC) before the event happens in August, despite a lawsuit seeking to disclose the information under public records laws.


The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Colorado has filed a lawsuit against Denver to determine what exactly city police are buying with the $50 million in federal funds appropriated for security during the convention. But even if a district judge sympathizes with plaintiffs in a court hearing set for Aug. 8, the city could still appeal the decision and keep the information secret until after the event.


“If we do have the hearing that date and the court hands down a favorable decision, it would be possible for the city to delay disclosure by filing an appeal,” said Mark Silverstein, legal director for the state’s ACLU. “The court would likely allow the city to postpone the actual disclosure while any appeal is pending.”


When the Colorado Independent filed a public records request in March seeking police weapons purchasing orders for the convention, the Denver Police Department declined to disclose the information by claiming it was not in the public interest to release such data.


In a separate action, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the city in May for convention weapons purchases information, after the organization’s own records requests were denied by the police department for the same reason.


Demonstrators and activists have raised red flags over the lack of information about potential crowd-control weapons that police may be purchasing. Tensions were aggravated by the disclosure by a private company in June that before the convention, Denver police are stocking up on 88 high-powered pepper ball rifles capable of shooting super irritant powder and rubber projectiles.


At the same time, the Denver Mayor’s Office, which is coordinating security for the convention, claims that releasing the information could be harmful to public safety.


"It is a valid concern when you’re procuring equipment for security needs," Lindy Eichenbaum Lent, spokeswoman for Mayor John Hickenlooper, said. "To describe the details of that in advance poses an obvious risk that we’re not going to subject our community to, nor are we required to do so."


In St. Paul, Minn., site of the Republican National Convention a week after the DNC, police have reported requesting 230 Tasers for all department officers.


Officials with the Denver’s Mayor’s Office have claimed that the weapons details will be readily available at an undisclosed time after the convention, but for individuals and reporters seeking the information before the Democratic convention takes place Aug. 25-28, the ACLU lawsuit could be too little too late.

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About the Author

Erin Rosa

Erin Rosa was born in Spain and raised in Colorado Springs. She is a freelance writer currently living in Denver. Rosa's work has been featured in a variety of news outlets including the Huffington Post, Democracy Now!, and the Rocky Mountain Chronicle, an alternative-weekly in Northern Colorado where she worked as a columnist covering the state legislature.

Rosa has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for her reporting on lobbying and woman's health issues. She was also tapped with a rare honorable mention award by the Newspaper Guild-CWA's David S. Barr Award in 2008--only the second such honor conferred in its nine-year history--for her investigative series covering the federal government's Supermax prison in the state.

Rosa covers the labor community, corrections, immigration and government transparency matters.

She can be reached at erosa@coloradoindependent.com.

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