Denver Police Chief Robert White says his move to have about 750 officers apply -- or re-apply -- for 400 detective, corporal and technician jobs brings fresh opportunity to a force that's become stagnant after a 4 ½-year hiring freeze.
White said the reorganization is a chance for patrol officers, who've had to no ability to advance during the freeze, to bring new ideas and skills to the higher-ranking, higher-paying jobs.
"It's created stress and it's created energy," White told a group of journalists attending the department's all-day Media Mini-Academy on Wednesday.
White, who was hired from the Louisville, Ky., department in November, acknowledged that the shake-up probably isn't welcomed by some detectives and other higher-ranking officers who have to reapply for their current jobs.
"Some of these people who have had those jobs, they're concerned and they should be," White said.
However, the chief stressed that about 85 percent of the 800 officers eligible for the jobs jumped at the chance to apply, take on a new challenge and earn higher pay.
White said one officer told him: "Chief, it doesn't matter if I get that job or not. Just to have the opportunity to compete means a lot to me."
The reorganization has been no small task. Supervisors have conducted more than 3,000 candidate interviews since White announced the promotion opportunity on July 7. The interviews are expected to be completed this week.
It's just the latest agency revamp for the new chief, who in February embarked on sweeping change to decentralize the agency by moving 70 percent of the 1,444 uniformed police officers to the department's six patrol districts.
When White arrived, 48 percent of the police force worked patrol.
"That's not a good equation," White said. "The backbone of policing is patrol."
White's also going to hire civilian employees to take over some jobs -- like writing minor auto accident reports -- to free up more cops to fight crime. The restructuring is expected to save the city about $5 million a year.
It's not just front-line officers who are facing change. The chief also had all the top commanders reapply for their jobs in February.
White said most of these moves are designed to tap into and leverage what he called "the No. 1 greatest resource we have" the citizens of Denver.
"If we create the right environment for (patrol officers), they're in the best position to serve our community," White said earlier this year. "They're in the best position to get those eyes and ears of those 600,000 residents
to get them engaged and get them willing to work with us."
The police can't be everywhere, all the time, he said.
The chief wants to drive crime prevention by winning the public's trust, ensuring that residents will pick up a phone and call police when they spot something suspicious or have a tip about who committed a crime.
White said his overhaul isn't a criticism of the police force's quality.
"I wasn't hired to fix a broken police department," White said.
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock "hired me to make a good police department a great police department," he said.
White said the vast majority of his troops are hard-working officers, committed to their jobs. Yet he said he's concerned that too often officers are focusing on tasks that arent top crime-fighting priorities.
That's why White is having the department's 200 sergeants -- critical front-line supervisors -- take a three-week course to help them set priorities for their patrol officers and encourage public engagement. The sergeant training will be done by the end of 2013.
White didn't pull any punches when he talked about a small fraction of officers who just aren't getting the job done.
If they don't improve, White said, the department will have to "get rid of them."
Meanwhile, the chief expects to end the long hiring drought by starting to recruit officers from other departments by the end of the year. White said he's also pushing for a new class of academy recruits.
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