DENVER (KDVR) – Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen said his officers are prepared for future protests that may be similar in magnitude to last year’s George Floyd protests.
“I’m proud of our officers and their willingness to identify ways to improve – not just in protest response but in everything that we do,” said Pazen.
Thursday afternoon, he demonstrated, for the Problem Solvers, new equipment that will help improve accountability in tense situations.
Officers will now be able to wear body cameras, adhered by Velcro, on their large protective vests. Previously, body-cams adhered to an officer’s uniform with a strong magnet, but some protective vests were too thick to hold the magnet.
“Were there some challenges with how gear – including body-cam – could be affixed to the protective equipment? Yes, and we’ve identified how we can fix that, and moving forward, I believe that we have addressed it, and we’ve addressed it appropriately. And the expectation is exactly the same: that we expect all of our members of our department to follow the policy, and if they don’t follow policy, then they will be held accountable in a fair manner that is also transparent,” he said.
The new equipment is among several changes the department has recently made to address oversight and accountability failures during the George Floyd protests.
A Problem Solvers investigation found some officers failed to follow the department’s use of force policy when they fired less lethal weapons during the protests and didn’t document how and when they were used.
Pazen said a technician with weapons expertise will now help officers make sure they document any less lethal use of force on the same day it happens. The Problem Solvers asked how the department will earn the trust of the community that officers will follow the new protocols when, in the past, some officers have not followed policy.
“The expectation is that policy is followed, and if somebody doesn’t follow the policy, to include myself, then that person is held accountable,” he said.
Pazen said some officers who responded to last year’s George Floyd protests have separated from the department, and some are involved in cases that are still being reviewed for possible discipline.
“It’s not dragging our feet,” said Pazen. “It’s that each one of these needed extensive review and that continues.”
The Problem Solvers asked whether some officers may not be held accountable for failing to follow policy during last year’s protest. “I think the question is really speculative,” said the chief, explaining that the Denver Police Department’s investigative process is thorough and transparent.
“The chief is asking a lot of the community to trust that these changes are being made,” said Al Gardner, chairman of the Citizen Oversight Committee. Gardner said he would like to see more tangible examples of how officers are being trained and what benchmarks they are expected to hit to be considered proficient in a specific task.
“I don’t think that we’ve made significant progress to say that we’re moving in the right direction,” he said, adding that he wouldn’t say things are going in the wrong direction either. “We’re at a space where we’re going to have to make that choice. The community and the police,” he said.
“It’s been painful for community. It’s been painful for our officers, but I’m also hopeful that we can recognize that we accomplish so much more when we’re willing to work together,” said Pazen.