Marie Kielar was sworn in as the Denver Sheriff’s Department’s first female division chief in March, and she already has a lot on her plate.
In addition to overseeing the sheriff training academy and the construction of a new 1,500-bed downtown jail, the Denver native is preparing detention plans for the upcoming Democratic National Convention, where she hopes that “things don’t get too crazy.”Kielar works in an office on the outskirts of the city up the road from the county jail. Denver is unique in that it is one of a handful of cities to have both police and sheriff’s departments. Both agencies ultimately answer to manager of safety Al LaCabe, but their missions are different.
“We’ll teach our recruits as much as the police department does, but our officers don’t need to know the traffic violations and ordinances,” Kielar says. “They’re trained the same as far as defensive tactics and firearms.” Kielar explained that the police department handles patrols and investigations while the sheriffs cover corrections and civil processes like evictions.
Out of approximately 680 applicants last year, around 20 percent become sheriffs, Kielar says.
Kielar has worked in the department since 1985 and says her interest in law enforcement as a child as well as her older brother’s decision to become a sheriff in Denver (he’s still working in the department after 30 years) motivated her to submit an application for the force.
Since joining, Kielar has worked in both city jails – the main facility located on the outskirts and a smaller lockup downtown.
“I never really had a lot of issues,” she says, remembering her stint in the jails. “You just go in and do your job and treat everybody humanely, the way you want to be treated.”
A new and larger jail in downtown Denver has been under construction for a year now and is expected to be completed in 2009 under the division chief’s watch.
Kielar was promoted to major in 2004 before being named recently as a division chief. Out of more than 700 uniformed personnel, there are six majors, three division chiefs and a leading undersheriff.
Eventually, the conversation comes to Kielar’s biggest project: security preparations for the Democratic convention set for Aug. 25-28, less than four months away.
When asked what she thinks about the fact that the whole world will be watching local law enforcement, Kielar admits that it’s a challenge. “We’ve had big events. Not like this, but we’ve had big events,” she says, recalling the 1997 G8 international forum of world leaders and the International Chamber of Commerce world conference in 2002, both of which Kielar worked on with the sheriff’s department.
“It’s just having a great plan in place and really, literally praying that people don’t get too crazy and there’s no kind of terrorist events,” Kielar says, hoping that nobody is hurt and that it’s “business as usual” for Denver during the event.
Kielar says law enforcement is prepared for a variety of occurrences surrounding the convention, ranging from bug infestation to what she calls a “smoking hole” scenario, where the Pepsi Center, the location for the event, is blown up in a terrorist attack.
Kielar also says many law enforcement agencies will help with security and any arrests, including the state’s Department of Corrections, which will provide detainee buses in case of mass arrests. Law enforcement officials from St. Paul, where the Republican National Convention will be held in September, have also been in communication with the department.
“They tell us what their plans are, and we share ours with them. They’re just really curious to see what happens here in Denver,” Kielar says.
Although detention plans such as where arrestees will be jailed won’t be released before the convention, according to Kielar, the city is preparing for more than the 1,200 arrests seen at the 2004 Republican convention in New York.
“We’re ready. We’re ready for quite a bit more than 1,200 arrests; we just hope we don’t have to do that,” says Kielar.
While the city’s massive preparation for the convention will soon be over and done with, Kielar says she looks forward to continuing her career in the sheriff’s department as the city’s first female division chief.
“It’s good. It’s really good. Mostly to have that trust in me — the confidence that I can do this job,” she says.