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June 20, 2018

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The State of Denver Public Safety: A Continuing Crisis in Failed Leadership
Updated On: Mar 22, 2016

Increasing violent crime, civil unrest and terror threats have made the safety of our communities the primary concern of many. Sadly Denver has not been immune from the trend of increasing crime. As reported recently by the media, all Denver neighborhoods witnessed an across the board increase in property and violent crime. Homicide in Denver is at a 10 year high.

Equally alarming are the attacks against law enforcement officers. The last three months have seen an unprecedented level of violence toward police officers with 14 Colorado Police Officers shot performing their duties. In a three day period in February we witnessed the third Denver Police Officer shot in 2016, a Mesa County Deputy murdered, and three Park County Deputies shot, one tragically being killed.

Against this backdrop of rising violence, the citizens of Denver have observed a consistent pattern of failed leadership in public safety. This failure in leadership has prompted the Fraternal Order of Police to provide the public with an overview from our perspective on the performance of the public safety decision makers in Denver.

Over the last year the Fraternal Order of Police has asked for the resignations of Director of Public Safety Stephanie O’Malley, Deputy Director of Jess Vigil, and Chief Robert White. These demands for resignation were primarily based on either incompetence and/or highly publicized corrupt behavior.

The following assessment of the leadership involved in managing Denver’s public safety comes after many weeks of reviewing those specific publicized events and only after extensive conversations with numerous members of the workforce in DPD:

Denver City Council - Satisfactory

The Denver City Council wisely recognized the shortage of police officers in Denver and acknowledged the necessity to hire 100 more officers for 2016. This sound public safety decision recognized the current shortage of officers and was visionary in addressing the future growth of the City. Sadly the request for more officers was ignored by Mayor Hancock.

The approval of body cameras, while controversial in their own right, will provide indisputable evidence to the critics of the Denver Police, that officers are conducting themselves in a manner consistent with the situations they are presented with; not using unnecessary or excessive force; and thus will help put an end to fictitious complaints and frivolous lawsuits.

Mayor Michael Hancock – FAIL

The mayor of Denver has failed to satisfactorily perform his fundamental duty to make the City and County of Denver safe and in doing so has failed the community he took an oath to serve. Despite a report from the Bureau of Justice suggesting 2.5 police officers for every 1000 citizens; a comprehensive report from the City Auditor outlining the urgency to increase the size of the Denver Police Department and Denver City Council budgeting to hire 100 more police officers, Mayor Hancock has failed to act.

These requests to increase the size of the police department were met with resistance from Mayor Hancock and a tepid response of “maybe” to City Council. For years the Denver Police Department has failed to keep up with population growth and it is the citizens of Denver who suffer the most with increased, and often unacceptable, response times as well as rising crime rates.

For a population of over 600,000 people, not including those who come to Denver for work and entertainment, there should be over 1,635 officers. Despite the lessons that should have been learned from the “bare bone” staffing of Denver Sheriff’s Department, Mayor Hancock has failed to even modestly increase the size of the Denver Police Department. The current rate of hiring barely addresses the rate of retirement. In the face of increasing crime, Mayor Hancock’s lack of leadership has placed the citizens of Denver and the men and women of the Police Department that serves them at risk.

Mayor Hancock has also appointed and retained Stephanie O’Malley as Director of Public Safety – a position she was not, and still isn’t, qualified for. Her lack of qualifications was matched only by her lack of the proper ethical standards necessary for this position.  

Mayor Hancock has not approached City Council on finding a replacement for the Independent Monitor after he was observed and filmed participating in an anti-police rally, nor has Mayor Hancock ordered Director O’Malley to remove Jess Vigil from her staff after it was revealed that he “hates cops.” To allow those who do not look favorably upon, or simply dislike the police, in positions that oversee and suggest punishment is reprehensible and is not conducive to a fair and impartial discipline process – something that all employees deserve.

Finally, while the mayor says "maybe" on more police officers, he shockingly wants to give the chief and every other appointee large raises. Most notably, Denver Police Robert White is proposed to get a 12% bump in pay this year after already getting a 3% raise, despite crime continuing to increase at unacceptable rates under his watch.

Director of Public Safety Stephanie O’Malley – FAIL

Director of Public Safety Stephanie O’Malley has proven to be a failure in her position. Ms. O’Malley lacked any prior public safety experience and her appointment by Mayor Hancock as the head of the police department, the sheriff’s department and the fire department for the city of Denver was in itself questionable. And is viewed as political payback by many.

Under her watch, Stephanie O’Malley has blindly and without deliberation supported the failed policies and practices of Police Chief Robert White. Director O’Malley also neglected the Denver Sheriff’s Department to a point where staffing levels were dangerously low – placing both the deputies and inmates at risk. Director O’Malley has also demonstrated a critical lack of ethics and integrity – something she requires of the officers and firefighters she supervises.

There is an abundant amount of evidence to support our statements. A report from the Denver City Auditor’s Office concluded that the Denver Sheriff’s Department suffered from “serious mismanagement” stating "the failure of the Department of Safety to provide vision for and proper oversight of the Sheriff’s Department and the Department’s actual jail management practices”. Director O’Malley and her office frequently engage in unjust firings and discipline by ignoring both the facts and evidence of the cases, substituting personal opinion and bias (as was openly expressed by her Deputy Director Jess Vigil). This results in civil/career service hearings for the officer or deputy appealing the case. The hearing officers, bound by facts and evidence, frequently overturn O’Malley’s unjustifiable terminations. This process is costly and undermines the trust and integrity of the discipline process.

Director O’Malley’s unprofessionalism has resulted in the top law enforcement official in Denver, District Attorney Mitch Morrissey, openly criticizing her “misapplication of criminal law.” Showing her lack of ethics, Director O’Malley notified a Denver Fire Department captain, whom she once dated, of a pending Internal Affairs compliant against him and warned him to watch his actions because of an active investigation. If an Internal Affairs Investigator from the police, sheriff, or fire department had violated the integrity of an internal investigation in this manner they, appropriately, would have been disciplined.

It is clear that Stephanie O’Malley has violated the public’s trust and should step down or be removed from office.

Office of the Independent Monitor Nicholas Mitchell – Unsatisfactory

Another of Mayor Hancock’s failed appointments, Nicholas Mitchell, had limited experience in how police departments operate, focusing his career in private commercial real estate and securities class action lawsuits. Mitchell seemingly got the job over other candidates because of his ability to speak Spanish.

In late 2015, Nicholas Mitchell made his inability to be “Independent” quite clear when he not only attended, but also participated, in an anti-police demonstration. Much like Stephanie O’Malley, Mitchell distorts the facts of cases with personal beliefs and opinions when making decisions on actions taken by officers.

When Mitchell was hired he indicated he would keep the monitors office at a distance from the Managers of Safety’s, instead they have worked hand in hand, becoming more aggressive and hostile towards police. Using tactics such as coercing officers to take harsh suspension penalties by adding or threatening to add termination level charges that have no merit.

This helps illustrate that both the Manager of Safety and Independent Monitor have no intention of being fair or objective.

Chief of Police Robert White – FAIL

Chief White’s primary stated goal has been the prevention of crime. The steady rise of crime in Denver is a clear indication that Chief White’s strategies are failing in Denver just as they did in Louisville, Kentucky before. His lack of leadership has been displayed on many issues:

1. The implementation of the “team policing”, now in its fourth variation, has resulted in fewer officers on the streets of Denver. Team Policing has endangered the safety of officers due to the frequent lack of cover and has significantly increased response times for calls for service. In a department that was already struggling with low staffing, Team Policing has restricted the movement of resources between precincts and sectors, restricted scheduling flexibility, and has devastated officer moral. Despite the clearly negative impact this staffing plan has had on public safety, Chief White refuses to address the issue.

2. At a time when finding qualified candidates for the police academy has become extremely challenging, Chief White has put the department on an antiquated 8-hour work schedule. The schedule change has significantly hurt the department’s recruiting efforts and has dealt another blow to a department suffering from low officer morale. Chief White insisted that these 8 hour shifts would give officers the ability to be more proactive; however, the results have been the opposite. Officers are still responding to calls that have been holding for excessive amounts of time and there has been no measurable increase in self initiated activity – there simply are not enough officers for the level of crime the city is now seeing.

3. At a time when police use of force is under intense scrutiny and violence against police is on the rise, Chief White has failed to provide key training to Denver officers. Denver officers receive very little practical use of force training (arrest control, tactics, use of force scenarios) – training that has been empirically proven to improve the safety of both citizen and officers alike. Although Colorado POST has mandated additional training for police officers throughout the state, the Denver Police Department has relegated this critical training to online video “tests” or brief lectures that have no practical training value. This “training” is inadequate and is clearly an administrative exercise that provides no benefit for the officers who are faced with a significant increase in violence.

4. Despite an alarming increase in gang violence, Chief White has decimated the staffing of the Denver Police Gang Unit. The Gang Unit has less than half of the officers it had prior to Chief White coming to Denver and this has significantly impacted the ability to prevent gang violence. This is clearly evident with the almost daily shootings that occurred over the summer of 2015 and the ten year high in homicides – driven primarily by gang violence.

5. Chief White and/or his command staff gained national notoriety when the order to “stand down” and not intervene was given as the Denver Police Officer’s Memorial was desecrated. Chief White’s decision sent a clear message to all: Crime will be tolerated in Denver and the ultimate sacrifice of the brave men and women of the Denver Police Department, whose names grace the wall, was of no consequence to him. The message was clearly heard as this symbolic final resting place to Denver Heroes was again vandalized last month. By allowing this despicable act of vandalism to occur, which could have been safely prevented before the first incident, Chief Robert White has lost the confidence of not only his officers, but members of the community as well.

6. Most troubling has been the message Chief White has sent with his lack of concern and respect for the officers of the Denver Police Department. The pattern has been consistent:

• During the course of a criminal investigation Chief White prematurely makes a public statement that the murderer of Ofc. Celena Hollis wasn’t targeting her. This callous statement minimized this deadly crime and jeopardized an ongoing criminal investigation, causing tremendous pain to a grieving department.

• After Ofc. John Adsit was run over and severely injured while providing security at an anti-police march, Chief White quickly makes a statement that this was an “accident”. Again, during the preliminary stages of the investigation and as the officers of the Denver Police Department were grieving at the horrific injuries Ofc. Adsit suffered, Chief White prematurely excused the actions of the perpetrator (who was later charged).

•Recently during the "Taking Policing to a Higher Standard" forum, Chief White told the Washington Post: "I’m saying ‘that’s kind of stupid’… is what I said to myself … but at the same time I realized that we needed to do something different,” when referring to the deadly force encounters faced by Denver Police Officer Gabe Jordan and Detective Toni Trujillo who were intentionally struck and injured by felons in stolen cars.

• As noted before, Chief White ordered officers to watch as the names of their fallen friends and family, engraved on the Denver Police Memorial, were desecrated by criminals.

Under Chief White’s watch the number of Denver officers assaulted and severely injured has increased at an appalling rate. Chief White’s pandering to the small groups that hate the police and his failed hands off crime prevention strategies have helped foster an environment where violence against officers is growing.

It is clear that Chief White and some members of his command staff are dangerously out of touch with the level of violence the officers (and the community) face daily. During a recent news story about the rising crime in Denver, Deputy Chief Matthew Murray had the audacity to address the problem by saying: “Is there a problem? Yes…But is the sky falling? No.” Denver has witnessed aggravated assaults rise by 14 percent, forcible sex offenses rise by 12 percent, stolen property crimes rise by 45 percent, motor vehicle thefts rise by nearly 25 percent and most notably homicides rise by 72.4 percent. Crimes rates rose in every single neighborhood in the city from 2014-2015. In the first two and half months of 2016, crime rates have again gone up double digits in some areas.

In addition, Deputy Chief Murray spent over $1.3 million on his social media program. Recently, Deputy Chief Murray acknowledged to the media that he used funds slated for officer training and equipment to pay for the social media program to include camera equipment, Emmy Awards applications, and media club memberships.

While the Fraternal Order of Police understands the importance of communicating with the community we believe that Deputy Chief Murray (and Chief White) should focus on taking realistic, tangible steps to reduce crime and increasing the staffing of the department – not spending significant taxpayer dollars on social media.

The citizens of Denver, as well as the brave men and women of the Denver Police Department who place their safety on the line every day in service to their community, deserve better leadership than they are currently receiving. Denver (and the country) is faced with a growing crime rate and the threat of terrorism. It is increasingly clear that the current city and police leadership is not up to the task of addressing these challenges. Denver – it is time to demand a change.

Colorado State Lodge F.O.P.
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