DENVER — Last summer, Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen linked arms with protesters and marched down the street. He promised police reform following the death of George Floyd at the hands of police.
The frustration felt last year was reignited with the recent death of Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man fatally shot by a Minnesota police officer last Sunday.
“I share frustration. I share dejection when I see the unnecessary trauma and tragedies that have occurred far too often in our country,” Pazen said. “It pains me. It pains our officers.”
Ashira Campbell, a Black Lives Matter activist, is leading a protest on Saturday at the state Capitol seeking justice for Wright. She says several speakers will have a platform to have a voice.
“We are here to make sure that people’s voices are being heard and to elaborate and to amplify that enough is enough, and that we are fed up with the police killing us,” Campbell said.
The shooting happened hundreds of miles away, but Dr. Anthony Young, president of the Denver Rocky Mountain of Black Physiologist, says people can connect because it’s a reminder of the constant dangers people of color face. He said people don’t have to be in the same city or be from the same family to hurt.
“Because their cultural experience resembles that of the person who is murdered,” Dr. Young said. “We realize that this could happen to any one of us at any time."
Pazen acknowledges change is needed to assure the community that a preventable tragedy doesn’t happen in Denver.
“Every time that we have a senseless tragedy that occurs, whether that be nearby or 1,000 miles away, it pulls people apart — it creates that distrust,” Pazen said.
Since the Black Lives Matter protests over the summer, the Denver Police Department banned the carotid chokehold. Other policy changes include timely reporting and tracking when an officer displays a weapon.
“Historically, if an officer responds to a call and they display their firearm, we didn’t have a reporting mechanism for that. Now, the policy has changed,” Pazen said. “We document each and every time that it occurs.”
Pazen adds that officers are also receiving increased training to assess situations on the field and to better respond to crowd control.
One specific training he pointed to was the Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement Project (ABLE). The training helps officers successfully intervene to prevent harm and creates a culture that supports peer intervention.
Pazen said it’s vital to maintain the lines of communication between the police department and the community to create change.
“We share the pain, and we are committed to identifying solutions to prevent tragedies from occurring here in our city — in our community — and we can do that by working together with community members to identify policies that can prevent tragedies, training that can prevent tragedies and culture shifts that can prevent tragedies,” Pazen said.
While not required, Pazen said some of his officers either live or grew up in the communities they serve and come from different backgrounds. He said they are currently hiring and focused on increasing women's presence on the police force.
“A pretty extensive study shows if a female officer is present, the use of force goes down by about 60%,” Chief Pazen said.
Two protests are set to take place on Saturday at the state Capitol. Pazen supports peaceful demonstrations but warns if any protesters violate the law, they will be held accountable.