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Denver City Council members sent letter calling for probe of DPD use of force during demonstrations

Letter is dated Friday, ahead of temporary restraining order and changes announced Sunday
denver police tear gas george floyd protests
Posted at 1:27 PM, Jun 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-08 15:27:10-04

DENVER – The entire Denver City Council sent a letter Friday to the Independent Monitor, the city’s police chief and executive director of public safety calling for a full review of the police department’s actions and use of force in the initial days of demonstrations in Denver over George Floyd’s death.

“We request that you undertake an in-depth analysis and review of Denver Police Department’s exercise of their duties at the above-mentioned demonstrations,” the council wrote to Independent Monitor Nick Mitchell in the letter that was released Monday.

“Please focus, among other things, on DPD’s Use of Force policy and other relevant policies and procedures; the use of various forms of ‘riot’ gear and equipment, chemical agents, rubber bullets and other crowd control measures; and DPD’s handling of community complaints made regarding officer conduct at the demonstrations,” it went on to say.

The letter says that “numerous” news reports and complaints have been made “alleging excessive use of force by Denver Police Department personnel.”

The letter from all 13 council members was sent Friday before the department announced Sunday some changes to its use-of-force and body camera policies, which include a ban on chokeholds and carotid compressions, the requirement of SWAT officers to wear body cameras during tactical operations, and the requirement that any officer who purposely points a weapon at a person self-report to a supervisor.

Also on Friday, a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order that says only lieutenants or higher ranks can order the use of less-lethal rounds, like pepper balls and tear gas, and for certain requirements to be met – such as officer-witnessed violence or types of destruction.

The ruling Friday came a day after four Denver residents filed a lawsuit against the city claiming officers with the city’s police department violated the protesters’ constitutional rights during a recent George Floyd protest, and demanding DPD temporarily halt the use of tear gas, pepper balls, pepper spray and other non-lethal devices.

On Saturday, the judge said that DPD officers would be required to have their body cameras turned on whenever interacting with others.

The councilors requested in their letter that Police Chief Paul Pazen and Executive Director of Public Safety cooperate “in making all relevant personnel and documents available to assist Mr. Mitchell and his staff in fulfilling the above request.”

Protests in Denver have been peaceful for the past six days and there has been a marked change in how Denver police and the other agencies called in to help assist have responded between the first weekend, when tear gas, pepper balls and foam bullets were used, and recent days when police have mostly stayed clear of the demonstrations aside from conducting traffic control.

Officers and deputies from the Adams County Sheriff’s Office, Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office, Aurora Police Department, Broomfield Police Department, Brighton and Commerce City police departments, Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, JeffCo Regional Tactical Team, West Metro Tactical Team and Westminster Police Department have all helped Denver police during the demonstrations, the department said Monday.

And the call for the probe by the Independent Monitor comes as Minneapolis city councilors seek to disband the police department there, while New York City’s mayor is promising to shift money away from the NYPD’s vast budget toward social programs.

Robinson told our news partners at the Denver Post in a story published Sunday that he didn’t believe Denver would have to “restart the police department from scratch” to make changes to its large budget sought by demonstrators and some council members.

“I would refocus a police officers’ job from the ultimate purpose of jailing people to how do we utilize them in a capacity to bring life to someone,” Robinson told The Post's Elise Schmelzer.

The council’s letter and the Sunday policy changes announced by the department also come as Democratic lawmakers work to pass a sweeping bill to address more-stringent policies on body cameras, reporting requirements and use of force within police and sheriff’s departments in Colorado, which has been promoted by leaders during the Denver demonstrations.

Pazen said in a statement Sunday that the department would “continue to evaluate our policies with community input and make improvements as needed in the interest of public and officer safety.”