New 'use of force' policy asks officers to slow down, reassess situation, use only force necessary

DENVER -- Stung by frequent criticism about excessive force and mounting payouts by the city to victims, the Denver Police Department is modifying its “use of force” policy, focusing on de-escalating situations.

Police Chief Robert White unveiled a draft of the new policy Wednesday morning, saying it was all about safety. 

White said that in the past, the department operated on a standard of “legal.”

“We had been taught that as long as officers’ actions are legal, they were generally doing things that are okay,” he said.

But community expectations have changed. White said more people are questioning whether an officer’s actions are necessary.   

Now, the training will change.

“Officers are currently trained to not give up ground when dealing with a volatile situation,” he said. “You’ve got to stand your ground. You’ve got to be like a cat that’s been forced into a corner.”

He said the new method of training will teach officers to be more adaptive.

“We want you to think, to use your intellectual skills,” he said. “Don’t be so rigid in saying, ‘I’ve got to get a resolution and I’ve got to do something right away.’ We want you to maintain control and keep yourself and other’s out of harm’s way. Don’t rush into a situation.”

The Denver Police Protective Association (DPPA) labels the new policy "disappointing."

In a texted statement to Denver7, the DPPA said it didn’t have any input into the policy and “according to the 21st Century Policing Report, it’s important to include input from community members and OFFICERS.”

The statement also says that several parts of the policy “create great anxiety and concern…” Section 4 in particular. “Much of this section sets officers up for failure and may also result in many more officers being injured due to under-reacting and/or hesitation.”

Police Protective Association President Nick Rogers believes the policy will empower the criminal element to commit more crimes.

“The real losers with this policy are the 600,000 plus citizens of Denver,” he said.

Chief White disagrees. He said the policy will make officers safer.

“Instead of rushing into a dangerous situation… we’re going to give them the tools to evaluate it more effectively, to use time and distance and space to their advantage, while at the same time not compromising the severity of the situation they’re being confronted with.”

The Chief said the change won’t happen overnight. He said there will be a motivation to change from administration.

“We have to change what we value,” he said. “We have to change how we reward.”

White said that in the past, if an officer was involved in a shooting and it was justified, the officer received a reward at the awards ceremony.

“Now, if an officer is involved in a life-threatening situation and the officer doesn’t shoot because he used time, distance and space to his advantage and de-escalated the situation, that officer is going to get the award.”

Chief White is seeking public input via email: DPDPlanning@denvergov.org

Not everyone is happy with that decision.

“With all due respect to Chief White, this is not community input,” said Lisa Calderon of the Colorado Latino Forum (CLF).  “It’s an administrative process. He’s already written the policy and is sending it out without meaningful opportunity to question what’s in it."

Calderon told Denver7 that CLF would like to see the creation of a community advisory board right away, before this policy goes into effect.

“We want to be able to review the policy point by point,” she said. “The same process used in the Denver Sheriff Department’s 'use of force' policy."

White said he’s handling the revision this way because of the magnitude of policy.

“Be mindful,” he said, “that this policy that we’re going to put out a draft by the way, has implications on about ten other policies.”

He said they’ve decided to send the draft out to the entire community, not just those who are constantly criticizing.

Attorney Mari Newman gives kudos to Denver Police for its attempts to review and revise the “use of force” policy, but she says she still has many concerns.

“It does not require an officer to attempt to use each (less lethal) option before moving up a notch,” she said. “If it’s only lip service and doesn’t require him to use less lethal force before moving up, it’s ends up being meaningless.”

Newman said there are policies other departments use that she’d like to see included in Denver’s. 

  • Philadelphia Police restrict officers from using deadly force unless all reasonable alternatives have been exhausted.
  • Cleveland Police ban using force on a person for talking back or as punishment for running away.
  • Establish an early intervention system to correct officers who do use excessive force.
  • Require the department to notify the state when an officer willfully violates department policy or the law.

“The reason for that,” she said, “is otherwise, bad cops will just be moved from one jurisdiction to another.”

Regarding the feedback, White said, “If there is something we can do, we will absolutely insert it into the final copy.”

White said the feedback will be accepted through February 4. After that, the final copy will be written and officers will be trained and expected to follow the new rules.

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