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Denver faith leaders raise concerns over latest reform efforts at the Sheriff's Department

Posted at 6:42 PM, Mar 12, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-12 20:49:27-04

DENVER -- Local Denver faith leaders are raising concerns over what they see as an effort to strip powers from the Office of Independent Monitor (OIM), while city leaders say that is not their intention with latest reform efforts within the Denver Sheriff's Department (DSD).

The city has been actively working to reform the Sheriff's Department for almost four years, following several high-profile deaths inside the Denver jail, and a rash of excessive force cases which have cost taxpayers millions of dollars to settle.

"We've had far too many deaths, far too many accidental releases, far too many people who are not being held accountable and the Office of Independent Monitor has to remain strong," said Pastor Terrence Hughes with the New Covenant Christian Church.

"Very important to me, personally, is that the Office of Independent Monitor is not de-teethed more," said Pastor Dr. Robert Davis with the Greater Metro Denver Ministerial Alliance.

Currently, when there is alleged deputy misconduct both the city and independent monitor must agree and have consensus before a case is declined. A layer of oversight, they believe, goes away under recently approved changes through the creation of what's known as the Public Integrity Division (PID).

This recently created civilian arm, within the Department of Safety, will soon be responsible for investigating complaints of deputy bad behavior.

"Part of the reasons we're moving to this Public Integrity Division is because of the OIM's recommendations," said Eric Williams, a 12-year veteran of the FBI, who was recently hired to oversee it.

Williams said the move is not about removing oversight, but adding more, while also bringing DSD's policies in line with what the police department does.

"The OIM will not be shut out from this process," he said.

Under the proposed changes, the OIM would still be able to make recommendations and Williams stressed they would not be ignored, even though on paper they would no longer have to listen.

"We're going to take those recommendations very seriously," said Williams. "And I think it's unfortunate that there's a narrative that exists that we don't take the OIM's recommendations seriously."

For both Denver pastors, they said they are trying to have faith but aren't sold on promises, not on paper.

"The city has spoken loud and clear for the last two elections that it wants more teeth in the Office of Independent Monitor, but in the house, the safety department, they're saying something a little different," said Hughes.

The city said the proposed changes are not a done deal, but the decision will be up to the director of safety. They hope to launch the new PID division by sometime this summer fully.

"I commend Director Riggs for creating the PID Division. As an Advisory Board member, I am having ongoing discussions with the Department of Safety regarding policies for the new unit, and it would be premature for me to comment on the proposals," said Independent Monitor, Nick Mitchell in a statement.