Denver City Council moves forward with proposal to sharpen the teeth of the city's watchdog office

Independent Monitor watches police, sheriff & fire

DENVER - Denver's City Council is moving forward a proposal designed to sharpen the teeth of the city's internal watchdog, the Office of the Independent Monitor and the related Citizen Oversight Board.

A committee voted Tuesday afternoon to advance the proposal to the full City Council.

Currently, Denver's ordinance says the police, sheriff and fire departments shall each establish their own policies for cooperating with The Office of the Independent Monitor. The amendment being considered by council members changes the wording to require the public safety departments to actively cooperate with investigations, including allowing members of the OIM to be present during interviews of witnesses or people under investigation.

Independent Monitor Nicholas E. Mitchell says he supports the proposed change.

“I work well with the departments, have a good working relationship, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been hiccups, there have been, there have been instances where we haven’t received everything that we needed to do our work,” said Mitchell. 

The Office of the Independent Monitor -- or "OIM" -- is charged with independently overseeing the operations of the police, sheriff and fire departments. It is a six-member office that was created by the City in 2005.

Recent examples of the OIM's work include:

  • Last week: The OIM announced it is investigating the Police Department's policy for shooting at suspects in moving vehicles. The announcement followed the controversial response to the shooting on January 26 and three others involving moving vehicles in the past seven months.
  • September 2014: The OIM submitted a letter detailing five "critical issues" that "have contributed to the misconduct issues" within the Sheriff's department but were not included in the official review required as part of a $3.25 million settlement with an inmate who was abused.
  • March 2014: A report examined at the use of inappropriate force within the Sheriff's Department and an upward trend in officer-involved shootings.
  • December 2013: The OIM found the Sheriff's Department failed to follow policy in the investigation of 45 serious allegations of deputy misconduct over a period of two years.

If approved by the full council, the amendment proposed by Councilman Paul López, also crosses out several lines allowing the public safety departments to set their own policies for giving the OIM access. The new language guarantees the participation of citizens on disciplinary boards and requires the police, sheriff and fire departments to make all records and evidence available to the OIM "within a reasonable amount of time."

The issue of access came to light when the Citizen Oversight board sent a letter commending the OIM's letter from September 2014, but expressing concern over a "lack of access to certain records."

“If we expect him to do the job that voters voted him to do, to create this office, he shouldn’t have to wait seven months for information,” said López.

If a records request from the OIM cannot be fulfilled, the appropriate department would be required to provide a written explanation about why. The departments would also be prohibited from charging the OIM for the requested records.

 

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