New "use of force" policy for Denver Sheriff Department

Posted at 11:13 AM, Jun 16, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-17 02:15:13-04

The Denver Sheriff Department released its new "Use of Force" policy on Thursday.

Sheriff Patrick Firman said it’s an “acknowledgement of community expectations regarding the treatment of incarcerated persons.”

He said it emphasizes the need for deputies to de-escalate situations as an alternative to using force, when reasonably possible and clarifies when force may be used.

“This is not about putting sheriff deputies in a position where they can’t defend themselves,” said Mayor Michael Hancock. “They’ve got to continue to defend themselves.”

“Use of force, at times, is necessary in the line of duty,” he said, “but excessive force will never be tolerated.”

The new policy comes after multiple deputies were accused of abuse and using excessive force on inmates in the Denver jail. A handful of the cases resulted in the city paying out millions of dollars in settlements.

Policy Summary:

·         If time and circumstances permit, prior to using force, deputies shall use de-escalation techniques in an attempt to resolve the situation through voluntary compliance.

·         When the situation allows, a deputy must contact a supervisor to create a planned course of action to respond to a potential threat.  Such situations include when an inmate is in a confined area (such as a cell.)

·         Force may be used to prevent physical harem to deputies, inmates or third persons, when there are no des-escalation techniques, tactical options or other non-force options reasonably available.

·         Force may not be used in response to an individual’s verbal swearing, insults or threats, without the present ability to carry out the threat, nor to punish, degrade, humiliate, discipline, retaliate or improperly coerce.

·         When body weight is used in an attempt to control an individual who is resisting, deputies shall immediately cease using body weight on the individual’s back, head, neck or stomach once the individual is restrained.

“This policy is one of a series of reform tools that will support our deputies’ success,” Firman said. “Others include increased staffing, increased frontline supervision, mandatory crisis intervention training (CIT) and an emphasis on staff well-being.

”Executive Director of Safety, Stephanie O’Malley said the new policy is crucial to the entire reform effort.

“It’s no secret that force has been at the center of controversy in recent years,” she said. “As a city, we have been focused on all things related to ‘use of force’ in Denver’s jails for some time.”

Firman said the first step is to manage the rollout of the policy and begin the training.

“We’re in the process of developing a training schedule,” he said. “All deputies will be trained in the policy before it goes into effect.”

He said his goal is to have all staff trained by the end of the year.

Civill right attorney David Lane questions whether the new policy will make a difference.

He’s represented a number of clients who sued the city over “use of force” issues.

“There’s a difference between writing down a bunch of flowery things and actually remaking yourself,” Lane said. “It’s like meet the new boss, same as the old boss as far as I’m concerned.”

Lane said Denver had a de-escalation policy under the old regime.

“Marvin Booker died under their de-escalation policy,” he said. “We’ll see how they administer this policy.”

When asked what it would take to end “use of force” related injuries and deaths in jail, Lane replied, “What will bring about change is when deputies are actually disciplined or prosecuted for killing people who don’t snap to attention the minute they give them an order.  It takes a prosecutor who’s willing to prosecute law enforcement officers when they break the law or kill people unjustifiably and it takes a sheriff who is willing to do something to offenders who constantly violate their policies and the law.”

Read the Use of Force Policy here.


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