Denver community groups fear being cut out of Safety Manager selection process

DENVER– Residents and community activists here fear they’re being cut out of the process by which Denver will appoint a new city safety manager. It’s the latest chapter in a recent story of miscommunication and suspicion between city and mayor’s office representatives and members of the community seeking to secure their participation in mostly reviewing police action and advising on the kind of best practices that ensure smooth relations between residents and authorities.

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Lisa Calderon, a community activist, who helped spearhead community involvement in the recent controversial Citizen Oversight Board appointment process, said organizations she works with have yet to be contacted by that Mayor’s office on the appointment of the safety manager.

Last week David Edinger, special assistant to the Mayor, told the Colorado Independent that there was nothing intentional about any lack of community outreach. He said it was a matter of time pressure and logistical constraints.

“I am pretty uncertain as to how [citizen input] is going to look and if that is even going to happen,” Edinger said. “I am going to try to at least explore the possibilities.”

Calderon, a member of Fix Our Broken Policing Campaign and the Colorado Progressive Coalition, said neither Denver groups have heard anything on how the selection process will work or if there will be a community component.

“I think it would be extremely problematic if the city fails to have community representatives as part of that process.”

The manager of safety  is appointed by the mayor to oversee mostly police and fire operations. Al LaCabe, current Denver safety manager, is retiring. La Cabe has been widely celebrated in the community as a champion for Denver residents and fair to law enforcement.

Edinger said the selection process was progressing. He said the city had narrowed the field to 20 from 90 applications. Edinger said the city was working out a date to begin asking applicants to appear before a selection committee. He said he’d like to reach out to the community in timand was working out how to do that effectively given the time constraints.

“I think that it would be helpful to both provide the community with a chance to be part of [the process] as well as an opportunity to gather some additional information from that setting prior to the final interviews by the mayor,” Edinger said.

Yet, he said, it’s vital to fill the position quickly and that ensuring community input was often complicated and time consuming.

Calderon isn’t buying that argument at all.

“I think that it is a smoke screen to say that it is moving too fast to have community involvement. They have the structure to pull in community involvement if that was really their will…. [Edinger’s office] has already been working with community members on the Citizens Oversight issue. So they have a pool. They just need to quickly identify names of people who are highly thought of in the community on issues of policing concerns. It would be a matter of drawing those people into even the finalist interviews. So I think that it is really more of the will to incorporate city voices and not necessarily the logistics or the expediency that’s at issue here.”

Edinger said citizen input would most likely come during finalist interviews, before the safety manager candidates meet with the mayor, who will make the final decision on who to appoint.

Calderon supports Division Chief Tracie Keesee.

“She has worked very well with working with community groups by hearing their concerns about changing the culture of the Denver Police Department. She is one of these people who is looking to truly change the culture of the Police Department and so I am sure she’s drawing her share of internal opposition.”

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