Advocates call for more community input in selection of next safety manager

Local community advocates say Monday’s resignation of Denver Manager of Safety Ron Perea does not end their concern about the office in the wake of police excessive force allegations.

Denver Police at the Denver Art Museum in August of 2008. (Photo/Jeff Bridges)
After the sped-up process of selecting Perea following former Manager of Safety Al LaCabe’s decision to retire, advocates interviewed by the Colorado Independent are calling for more community involvement in both the selection process and Perea’s replacement.

“They should learn from their past mistakes of rushing through the process without adequate community input,” Lisa Calderon, a Denver community advocate, said. “There should also be a commitment from the next candidates to build upon the discipline matrix that took years to design and implement.”

Art Way, Colorado Progressive Coalition racial justice director, agreed with Calderon: “We need a manager of safety who is willing to implement the discipline matrix to the full extent, and err on the side of the community … Someone willing to imprint on law enforcement that they are civil servants and not some sovereign group of thugs. I think many within law enforcement would like to see this as well.”

Speaking to the Colorado Independent after his hire a couple of months ago, Perea said he did have some past experience working with community groups, though limited in scope.

“I’ve always been working with diversity groups, mostly in our recruiting … We find that our strength is in diversity,” Perea said at the time. “As an official with the mayor’s office, that goes along with the territory. You’ve got to work with the community.”

Working first as a police officer and then in the U.S. Secret Service, Perea said in that interview that building relationships is what made the job as manager of safety a dream one for him. However, that dream quickly turned on him after realizing his decision not to fire two police officers involved in the 2009 beating of Michael DeHerrera cracked the foundations of future relationships.

“The whole thing is weird, I would think Hick [Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper], [Denver Independent Monitor Richard] Rosenthal and Perea would be on the same page,” said Way, who as a member of a selection board approving Perea as a candidate had been willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. “Surely I thought Perea would stay in line with the momentum LaCabe created, but he seemed bent on undoing things. These DPD cops have been acting as if they are celebrating LaCabe’s departure.”

Eric Brown, communications director for the mayor’s office, said that the next steps in developing a selection process for the new manager of safety have yet to be discussed.

Calderon said she applauded the resignation of Perea but added she hoped the city would see it as a lesson. “I hope the city’s leadership finally takes this opportunity to make real structural changes in the department to improve community relations, restore public trust and save taxpayer money that is currently being spent to settle cases with victims of police violence.”

Due to the selection process of Perea being expedited to compensate for the retirement of LaCabe, that time line initially put into question the ability for the city to allow for community involvement in the process. However, Brown said at the time that they were happy with the process and felt there was adequate citizen input.

He said candidates were first narrowed to a group of 17, then were screened by a preliminary panel of individuals familiar with the Department of Safety. Four candidates emerged and went on to a second panel Brown said was made up of community leaders and union members. He said that LaCabe, Rosenthal and Hickenlooper Chief of Staff Roxane White also conducted interviews.

Hickenlooper ultimately made the appointment.

Calderon had said that while some on the panel represented real community leaders, many were the just “usual suspects.” She called for broader community outreach for the next decision-making process.

Noting that the city should not stop its investigation into the incident, Calderon said while Hickenlooper and Denver Police Chief Gerry Whitman continue to say that these violent acts were isolated incidents committed by a few cops, “the only differences between these beatings and other excessive force incidents that we community organizers have been complaining about for years is that these officers were captured by DPD’s own cameras.”

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