Move to strengthen Denver’s police accountability office moves past first hurdle

Adam Yoblon

Denver has moved one step closer to ensuring permanent civilian oversight of its police and sheriff departments.

The City Council’s Governance and Charter Review Committee unanimously passed a measure Wednesday that would include Denver’s Office of the Independent Monitor in the city’s charter. That move, which ultimately must be approved by voters, would protect the office from being altered or dissolved by the mayor.

“[The Independent Monitor] is an essential role, as is the director of public works or the chief of police,” said Councilman Paul Lopez, who sponsored the measure and chairs the committee. “I think that’s why lots of people support it.”

The office was created in 2004 by then-Mayor John Hickenlooper to ensure transparency, effectiveness and accountability with law enforcement. A little more than a year ago, Lopez and the civil rights advocacy group, Denver Justice Project, began working on a measure to include the office in the city charter, engaging various community groups in the process.

“The thing we heard the loudest and the clearest from your constituents was that they are sick of police officers investigating their own,” Denver Justice Project Organizer Roshan Bliss said. “And they’re sick of the consistent result of cops investigating cops coming up with cops having done nothing wrong.”

The only attendee to testify against the measure was David Bruno, an attorney representing the Denver Police Protective Association.

“I think this council has to seriously consider what you’re doing. You’re giving up power both to yourself and to the mayor,” Bruno said. Enshrining the office within the city charter could lead to unchecked power by the monitor, he suggested.

In an interview after the meeting, Bliss cast Bruno’s presence as a heavy-handed effort by police to evade accountability.

“I think that’s exactly what you would expect – that the police union would come out and mechanically oppose anything that would hold their officers accountable,” he said.

Bliss said he wants to further empower the office by making sure it is “permanently, fully staffed with a solid ratio of investigators to police officers.” He also wants it to have the power to conduct its own investigations instead of reviewing those by police.

Both Bliss and Lopez emphasized that transparency and accountability benefit police officers, as well as residents.

Nick Mitchell, the city’s independent monitor, didn’t respond to a phone call seeking his stance on the proposal.

The full council will consider the measure on August 15. If approved, it will appear on the November ballot.

[Photo credit: Adam Yoblon via Creative Commons on Flickr]