DENVER — A fresh start is simply not possible for the Denver Sheriff's Office.
There's no wiping the slate clean after years of lawsuits and settlements on allegations of excessive force. Or of tolerating sexual harassment by inmates. Or allowing a woman to give birth alone in a jail cell.
The new sheriff knows change won't happen overnight. What she doesn't know is how long the job will be hers.
When Fran Gomez got the call that she was taking over as interim sheriff, she was pretty surprised.
“No, not pretty surprised. Unbelievably surprised,” Gomez said, laughing.
So what does she think about becoming the first woman to hold the position?
“I’d like to think it gives some hope, I suppose, to women who are coming below me. When I was a new sheriff many years ago, I never had an aspiration to be sheriff or chief of police or any of those high-ranking positions,” Gomez said.
She hold the title only on an interim basis while a search is ongoing for a new sheriff, after a tumultuous tenure under previous Sheriff Patrick Firman, which included a recent settlement to 10 female deputies over discrimination for $1.5 million.
Gomez hopes having a woman in the top office brings improvement.
“I want everybody who works at the Denver Sheriff’s Department to be treated with respect, males or females, but I do want women who work here to know they have a voice in the Sheriff’s Office,” she said.
The department also spent $11 million in overtime a couple of years ago, which she says is part of the biggest issue facing the department.
“We’re down 20% and it’s very challenging right now to get applicants for deputy sheriff positions. It creates moral problems, it creates problems with people who don’t feel well. It creates a lot of stress. Not an ideal situation,” she said.
So she wants to restore public faith.
“I want people to realize that the deputies work very, very hard every day, so I’m definitely interested in creating more positive image of the department,” she added.
On calls to make the Denver Sheriff an elected position, Gomez pointed out that her department's responsibilities are far more limited than those in other counties.
Because of that, she believes it makes sense for Denver to be an exception.