Denver voters will decide whether city will adopt a permanent watchdog over city police, sheriff

Denver voters will decide in November whether the city should move toward more permanent independent oversight of the Denver police and sheriff’s departments.

The Denver City Council voted 9-0 Monday night to put before voters a measure that would make the Office of the Independent Monitor part of the city charter. As it is now, the mayor appoints the independent monitor with City Council approval. Placing the office within the charter would insulate it from the political winds — and whims — of City Hall. The office was established in 2004 to ensure transparency and accountability within the city’s law enforcement agencies. It monitors law enforcement investigations and provides its recommendations to the city’s manager of safety. 

“This is a great step toward repairing damages that have been done over many years,” said Alex Landau,who said he was beaten by Denver police officers in 2009  after he made an illegal left turn. Landau filed a federal lawsuit against the city, which settled for $795,000.  An administrative review by the DPD cleared the three officers involved in 2012.

The Denver Justice Project held a rally in support of measure before the council meeting, and its members were among the 20 people who spoke during public comment in support of the measure. No one spoke against it, though the Denver Police Protective Association is opposed to a permanent office, saying that it may grant excessive power to the independent monitor. The DJP and various community groups have called for a more permanent office in the wake of questionable police shootings of black and Latino men across the country, including in Denver. Just this past Saturday in Milwaukee, police shot and killed an armed African-American man. The shooting has sparked protests and rioting in that city.

“When you get pulled over, you shouldn’t expect to lose your life,” said City Councilman Paul Lopez, who sponsored the legislation. City Councilwoman Robin Kniech called the creation of a permanent office a “renewing of vows” between City Council and the Office of the Independent Monitor, while councilman Chris Herndon pointed out that while he supports the measure, he rejects blanket statements about a culture of corruption in the police force. That comment drew eye rolls and head shaking from the audience.

Council members Kevin Flynn, Rafael Espinoza, Debbie Ortega and Paul Kashmann were absent.

Photo Credit: Eliza Carter