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New Denver Sheriff making progress on reforms

Posted: 7:01 PM, Mar 01, 2016
Updated: 2016-03-02 02:01:15Z

Nine months after recommendations were made to reform the troubled Denver Sheriff's Department (DSD) - and 120 days into his new job, Sheriff Patrick Firman gave his first update to council members on Tuesday.

The sheriff was brought in to help fix the department after multiple deputies were accused of abuse and using excessive force on inmates in the Denver jail.

A handful of the cases resulted in the city paying out millions of dollars in settlements.

Sheriff Firman provided the update to members of the Safety and Well-being Committee.

"I think we've made significant progress," he said.

"We are headed in the right direction," said Councilwoman Robin Kniech who is chair of the committee. "I think there is always a question about whether or not we are being as aggressive as we can be in the early prevention of incidents escalating to use of force."

Firman said one of the biggest problems is with a lack of staffing, which is why the department is looking to hire more than 200 deputies this year.

That will bring DSD to full staff, with more than a thousand employees, something the sheriff called critical to reform efforts.

"We deal with some very, very difficult, some very stressful people in order to do that effectively staff have to be on their best - they have to be well-rested, not stressed out," said Firman.

The other big challenge is mental health.

Firman said 26 percent of Denver's inmates are being treated for some kind of mental illness - which makes it the largest mental health institute in the state.

"It's not just a matter of saying don't bring them to jail - we got to have somewhere to put them. The reason they're ending up in jail is because something on the outside," he said.

DSD is also working to give deputies alternatives to using force - which is where de-escalation or critical incident training comes in.

"What we want to do is give the deputies the ability to identify people that might be in crisis ahead of time, if they can and give them tools to deescalate that situation," said Firman.

The sheriff's goal is to have every deputy go through the 40-hour course by the end of the year. 

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