DENVER (KDVR) – The Denver Police Department is using a less-lethal weapons coordinator to help track when officers deploy less lethal tools — including the 40mm sponge grenade.
Chief Paul Pazen said the coordinator is one of many changes the department has made in the months since the Office of the Independent Monitor reported “extremely troubling” police tactics and significant gaps in Use of Force oversight during the George Floyd Protests in May and June.
“We hear you. We see you. We want to work together and accomplish what our city is demanding of us, and we can do that in a peaceful way,” Pazen said, during a Citizen Oversight Board meeting Wednesday night.
Pazen shared details about the progress the department has made on the OIM’s 16 recommendations for improvement.
“We’ve had a Technician assigned to the Special Operations Bureau since 2019 who originally had a wide range of duties. In the months following the George Floyd protests, we moved/centralized duties related to less lethal systems under this Less Lethal Coordinator,” Doug Schepman, a spokesperson for DPD said.
“Also following the protests, the Less Lethal Coordinator worked with DPD personnel to address the specific gaps outlined in the OIM report involving the distribution, documentation and accounting of less lethal munitions and equipment, and the Less Lethal Coordinator will continue overseeing these processes moving forward. These improved processes include a check-in and check-out system – including redundancies – to make sure any use of force involving less lethal systems are completed at the conclusion of the event pursuant to OIM recommendation,” Schepman said.
Problem Solvers investigation
A FOX31 Problem Solvers investigation uncovered failures by DPD and other responding agencies to follow their own use-of-force policies by thoroughly reporting how weapons were used during the protests, including documenting the number of munitions that were deployed during the protests, the reasons for deployment, and the officers who fired them.
Several citizens complained of severe injuries, including at least two who said they lost sight in an eye after being struck with a police projectile.
Pazen said the department has worked on recommendations to conduct additional training that would guarantee no untrained officers are using less-lethal force, including the 40mm weapons or those that deploy pepper balls.
“Hundreds of our officers have received additional field force training,” he said. “We are doing four-hour training every quarter for our officers – both online type of training as well as in-person, practical training as well.”
Pazen said the ongoing training is one of his biggest challenges that has been difficult to overcome as the department attempts to comply with each of the OIM’s recommendations for improvement.
He called it a “heavy lift” and a “drain on resources” when the police call volume is heavy. But he said the department is dedicated to continued learning and enhanced communication with the community.
Removal of weapons, new badge numbers and mutual aid
The department also eliminated rubber ball grenades, per the OIM recommendation, for crowd control purposes and adopted a new policy to limit the use of pepper balls for the same purpose.
Pazen said the department has also purchased new materials to promote accountability, including new, Velcro badge numbers that can be placed on an officer’s outer-most police garment.
“We also added tape that documents the badge numbers, as well, on the helmets, to ensure that identification takes place,” he said.
The department drafted mutual aid agreements with other police departments for a more uniform police response at future protests.
“We should be able to execute the signed documents moving forward,” he said. “It’s actually gone a little bit smoother than what I had anticipated … I can’t compel another agency to do things, but they were very supportive of this, and I’m excited,” he said.
Pazen said the department continues to look for other examples for improvement at other departments across the country.