DENVER — Emotions ran high and a frustrated crowd gave Denver’s police chief an earful Tuesday night as he discussed proposed changes to the department’s use of force policy.
The police department’s proposed policy changes direct officers to de-escalate volatile situations if at all possible instead of using force. The proposal emphasizes using the force that’s “necessary” instead of the force that’s “legal.”
Police chief Robert White also said the proposed changes are meant to keep police and suspects safe.
“If you really value sanctity of life, those individuals that are creating a havoc, that are creating crime in our community, guess what, I want them to go somewhere at the end of the day also. I want them to go to jail or to court. I want them to go anywhere but be killed or injured by the shot of a police officer,” he said.
Instead of focusing on quickly taking control of a situation, officers will be encouraged to slow down, when possible, to evaluate the situation, and consider their resources and options.
But many of the more than 100 people in attendance had big concerns with the proposed policy changes. Many believe they lack the teeth to bring about real change.
“How does this policy translate into discipline for violations of it?” a former judge asked.
“The policy has loopholes and it contradicts itself. It’s not concrete and it leaves the interpretation open to the officer reading the policy,” a woman said.
White said while they might feel the proposals don’t do enough to change culture within the department, the police union disagrees. He said the union is opposed to the policy changes because they feel they are too restrictive.
Many have also criticized White for initially not wanting to hold public meetings about the proposed changes.
“I’ve been accused by a lot of people,” he told the crowd.
But he insists the policy was drafted after listening to the concerns of thousands of Denver residents.
“It was your voices that created this draft. It was not my voice that created this draft,” he said.
The policy outlines when it is acceptable for officers to use “control options” such as restraint techniques, batons, chemical agents, stun guns, service dogs and deadly force.
White talked about the need to change culture within police departments. He also discussed specific ways the Denver Police Department hopes to do that, such as rewarding officers who prevent crimes instead of just rewarding officers who make large numbers of arrests.
Tuesday night’s meeting was the first of three that will be held in the coming weeks.
The other meetings will be held from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday at Elevate Denver Church (2205 W. 30th Ave.) and from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Feb. 4 at Red Shield Community Center (2915 High St.).