Accountability questions loom after monitor finds body-cam and police training problems

Problem Solvers

DENVER (KDVR) – Some police officers who worked Denver’s downtown George Floyd protests in May said they didn’t always know what to do or have clear guidance about their role during the chaotic event, according to the City’s Office of the Independent Monitor.

“Many officers said they weren’t always sure what they should be doing,” said Nick Mitchell, the independent monitor, who publicly spoke on Wednesday about his six-month review of the Denver Police Department’s response to the protests in May.

Mitchell presented his review to members of Denver City Council’s Safety, Housing, Education, and Homelessness Committee, who requested his work.

Mitchell’s 69-page report also found a lack of body-worn camera footage, a recent decrease in crowd-control training and no relevant mutual aid agreements that had been pre-established with departments that provided support. Some of those agencies used weapons and munitions that are not used by DPD.

“There are serious missteps – lack of preparation in the way the DPD handled these demonstrations,” said Councilman Paul Kashmann. “I recognize the challenges involved in mass gatherings, but this is the agency that we rely on to keep the peace in all these situations.”

Kashmann called Mitchell’s report “chilling.”

Councilwoman Robin Kniech said she felt the report was fair.

“You can be both scathing and fair, and I think that’s what this report is,” she said.

Kniech observed that Mitchell’s report found issues with police failing to give proper notification to the public to disperse prior to firing munitions in their direction. 

She said this was not the first time the City had been warned about failing to provide proper dispersal notifications or giving the public adequate time to comply. She said similar complaints came in during the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver.

She said she was also trying to understand how police accountability would work in situations in which multiple officers were firing munitions.

During Wednesday’s meeting, Mitchell highlighted several issues that he said needed to be fixed by the Department, including communication problems. 

“We heard that quite often in the middle of intense conflict, officers would key up their radios and attempt to get on the air…but they’d be unable to get access,” he said. 

Mitchell said he didn’t know the appropriate solution for the communication problems, but it needed to be addressed.

He also said the department had recently seen a decrease in the frequency of training on crowd control situations.

“The officers have said they believe that should change, and we agree,” he said. “What the exact amount of training is or should be, we’re not sure, but it certainly needs to be increased from where it has been from what’s been provided in recent years.”

Members of Denver’s Citizen Oversight Board, a nine-member group appointed by the mayor and City Council to make policy-level recommendations related to discipline and other issues, received a presentation from the Office of the Independent Monitor on Wednesday evening.

“I think things are going to improve very slowly,” said Al Gardner, the chair of the board.

Gardner said he was surprised by Mitchell’s findings and disappointed.

“Initially I would say (I felt) disappointment at many of the different aspects of the report,” he said, “chiefly, the body-worn camera section and the lack of management and lack of transparency.”

He said he felt many of the problems revolved around a lack of training.

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