Paul Pazen, a Denver native and career-long officer nicknamed “Smiley” because of his cheery attitude, will be the city’s next chief of police.
Mayor Michael Hancock announced Pazen’s promotion at a news conference Thursday afternoon at the City and County Building. Pazen will replace outgoing Chief Robert White, who is retiring after 46 years in policing, the last six of which he spent leading Denver’s department.
“It’s one thing to get this job, but the real measuring stick is what you have done with this job,” said Pazen, who grew up in Lincoln Park and was a U.S. Marine for five years before joining DPD in 1994. He said it has been his dream to lead the department.
“This is a culmination of that service that we get to give back to our community,” Pazen said. “I grew up (with) a single mom and we needed a little help, and now I get to give a little back.”
He’s currently the commander of District 1, which covers the northwest part of the city.
Pazen came recommended by a 17-member search committee and was selected after what Hancock called a “long, arduous” process. Hancock said Pazen was the committee’s “clear top choice.”
Other finalists, all from DPD, were Commander Michael Calo, Commander Joseph Montoya, Deputy Chief David Quinones and Commander Ronald Saunier.
Pazen said he his new job comes with a responsibility not only to prevent crime, but to “focus on social harms.”
“We want to ensure we are providing wraparound services, non-traditional approaches to the city’s most vulnerable,” he said.
In response to a question about excessive use of force by police officers — a problem White is credited with curbing in Denver — Pazen said, “When we have officers that are enabled by the citizens to effect an arrest. … This is power that is given by the people to the police officers. We need to make sure we are utilizing that power, not abusing that power, and maintaining that trust with the community.”
Nick Mitchell, who is Denver’s independent monitor and whose office is tasked with overseeing investigations of city law enforcement officials, says he believes the public can trust in Pazen.
“I think he has the skill set and the philosophies to be successful and to be a reformer,” Mitchell said. “I think he has a track record in his district of reform and of being open and transparent, and sometimes that’s half the battle. Chief Pazen has shown he is willing to engage with the community, including the department’s critics.”
The city hasn’t yet announced when White will step down, but on his way out of the press conference, White said he’d be leaving “soon.”