DENVER — Wednesday marks 20 years since Paul Childs was shot and killed by Denver police. The 15-year-old's death led to increased transparency and citizen oversight in the city.
"Yesterday, we celebrated the Fourth of July, a day dedicated to the freedoms that should be afforded to all Americans — life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Today, we grieve that not all Americans have enjoyed the same freedoms and justice as others, particularly those in underserved communities. Today, we remember Paul Childs," the City of Denver Citizen Oversight Board said in a written statement Wednesday.
His community remembers Childs as charming and harmless.
On July 5, 2003, he was at his home when his life was cut short.
"Paul had been making a sandwich in the kitchen of his home and came out carrying a knife in distress. A family member had called the police in hopes to sort of de-escalate the situation. Rather than de-escalating the situation, [police] shot Paul while Paul was facing them. They had asked him twice to drop the knife and he didn't. And then they shot him," said Julia Richman, the chair of the City of Denver Oversight Board.
Childs was legally blind and had developmental disabilities.
In this case, the responding officers had not been informed of Childs' disabilities, according to the oversight's written statement.
"His murder highlighted how low of a priority police culture placed on de-escalation and how ill-equipped public safety systems were to handle interactions with community members who had disabilities or mental illnesses," the oversight board wrote in its statement.
The responding officer was suspended for 10 months for ordering Childs to come out of the house and drop the knife when the officer arrived on scene, rather than speaking with the family first.
After the 15-year-old's death, there were protests and an outcry from the community that led to the creation of the Office of the Independent Monitor.
That's a civilian oversight agency for the City and County of Denver Police and Sheriff Departments.
It has several essential functions, including receiving and processing complaints from the community, and making recommendations about policy issues.
But that's not the only change that was made.
"Then the citizen oversight board was created, which is a nine-member community board that provides both oversight to the independent monitor so we oversee the overseers," Richman said.
Its members have access to investigation reports and body-worn camera video, in an attempt to give the community a structured role in the police review process.
The Citizen Oversight Board is also responsible for selecting and supervising the head of the Office of the Independent Monitor.
Since Childs' death, the Denver Police Department and Denver Sheriff Department have updated their use of force policies, emphasizing de-escalation when possible, requiring officers use the minimum amount of force necessary and prohibiting chokeholds.
Officers' training has expanded training on de-escalation, crisis intervention, intervening when other officers act inappropriately and working with people who have hearing impairments, development disorders and mental illnesses.
The STAR program was also created. The STAR teams are made up of paramedics and mental health clinicians to respond to certain low-risk 911 calls instead of police officers.
There is a way the public can get involved with police oversight in Denver.
You can join the oversight board's virtual meeting Friday, July 21 when Chief Ron Thomas will be a guest speaker.