New Denver Police Chief spends stressful year reorganizing police department

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DENVER -- As Chief Robert White marks his one year anniversary as Denver’s top cop, he allowed FOX31 Denver exclusive access to his daily routine.

It started with a 6 a.m. workout at the gym. Chief White said, “It reduces stress. Keeps me from saying some things I wouldn't ordinarily say.”

It has been a stressful year for the new chief. He has reorganized the department, bringing in civilians and moving officers to the streets, and he has made dozens of officers reapply for their jobs.

Chief White said he understands that change is difficult, “I really understand the angst that comes along with change. I’m pretty confident. What we’re doing, why we’re doing it.”

The Police Protective Association has had many meetings with the new chief. The president of the PPA, Nick Rogers told FOX31 Denver, “For the average officer on the street, it may not have been a positive change, but as new programs get implemented and time goes by, I think it's a chance to see what direction we're going to go. It's officer by officer.”

Chief White says that the department will hire 110 new officers in 2013, marking the first new hires in four and a half years.

“So we’re actually evaluating not just getting more officers on the street that are already inside the department, we're actually in the process of evaluating what is the right number of police officers for our community. In addition to the three classes, internally we’re pushing officers that traditionally haven’t been on the streets out in the districts also. I am adamantly convinced that we need to get more resources out in those districts. Many of the things we’ve done position us to do that.”

The chief says there is a lot of work still to do, and part of that work is meeting with his top commanders once a week. Chief White closely monitors crime stats and resources. He said, “The community needs to be willing to work with us.”

The one thing that keeps him up at night he said is making sure every officer goes home at the end of their shift.

He said losing Officer Celena Hollis in a shooting in the line of duty in City Park this summer still weighs heavily on his mind.

Chief White got choked up when he spoke about her. He said, “Celena was one of those great police officers. You ask yourself, 'why Celena?' It’s a piece of me gone every single time. It’s not just losing a police officer, it's losing someone part of your family, your responsibility to make sure they go home at the end of the day. Every time it occurs, I go home at night and think I’m having a nightmare.”

But he says some good can come out of the tragic shooting. He said, “We haven’t changed any procedures, but what I’ve noticed is that it brought us closer together. As a police department and as a community.”

And he said city leaders have refocused their efforts on preventing gang violence. They meet once every few weeks with gang members. Chief White explained, “Our remarks are enough is enough, we’re not going to tolerate this. Next time you do this, we are going to do everything we can to lock you up and throw away the key. However, that’s not what we’re about. There’s a social component there, drugs assistance, jobs, public health, education.We’re not going to deal with this anymore. We want to help you turn your life around.”

He says it is too early to tell if this method is effective, but he is confident that it will make a positive difference.

Chief White knows he was brought in to clean up the department, after a series of arrests involving the use of force were caught on video tape.

In the year since he arrived, he has not heard of any similar incidents. He said, “The message we attempt to get out is you got a job to do, you got a tough job to do we understand that, we support that, but you have to do it a certain way, you have to do it consistent with the laws, you gotta' treat people with dignity and respect. They need to know they can go out and do their job and they will be supported, but if they go out and do their job wrong, knowingly do it wrong, they have to be held accountable.”

The chief’s days are long, filled with personnel meetings, community meetings, social gatherings and awards ceremonies.

He believes the department is headed in the right direction, but he knows he can’t do it alone.

“All of this is for the purpose of putting us in the very best position to prevent crime and I am absolutely committed to do that. And that can best occur when we have a police department that understands what our greatest resource is ... that is the citizens in our community.”

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