EXCLUSIVE: Denver PD Chief talks use of force

Posted at 9:31 PM, Feb 02, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-03 00:49:19-05

Police officers across the country are in the middle of a debate regarding use of force and Denver Police Chief Robert White is weighing in. Riots in Missouri, protests in Baltimore and a public outcry over the death of a jail inmate in Denver highlight some of the cases where the actions of officers are being called into question.

Chief Robert White just returned from a forum in Washington, D.C. where he was part of a nationwide discussion on the use of force.

"Policing really has changed but the police (force) hasn’t necessarily changed," said Chief White.

The Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) came up with 30 new principles dealing with use of force. Chief White sits on the organization's board and has played a big role in the effort to change policy.

He said the department needs to lay the foundation to implement some of the recommendations and stressed the importance of building strong community relations.

The discussions have been taking place for months, well before the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri and other police incidents that have sparked national outrage.

"There will come times where those officers have no other alternatives but there will come times where perhaps their actions were totally legal, totally legal but were they necessary?" said Chief White.

Last year a contingent of law enforcement officers, including Deputy Chief Matt Murray, traveled to Scotland where they studied how those officers train. The vast majority of police in Scotland are unarmed and rely on de-escalation techniques.

"We tend to think of worst case scenario and then we react believing that the worst case scenario is going to happen or to try to prevent the worst case scenario, in Scotland they take information as it’s coming in and adapt to that situation," said Deputy Chief Matt Murray.

Chief White knows it will take time to implement any changes but said some of the current policy falls in line with the recommendations.

"It’s challenging, it is very challenging," said Chief White. "What we very seldom talk about is, we also want to make sure that suspect that is creating a danger to you or somebody else, we want to make sure that that person goes home at the end of the day also."

One of the 30 principles prohibits shooting at moving vehicles. Denver police recent changed department policy on shooting at a moving car. That was after a controversial case where officers shot and killed 17-year-old Jessica Hernandez when they say she drove a car toward them. Officers cannot shoot at a moving vehicle unless deadly force is being used other than the car itself.

Chief White wants a local committee to review the PERF recommendations and decided how to proceed.