There is no dispute that there have been several, violent and unfortunate incidents of police brutality in Denver over the last five years. In fact, as I have described in many interviews, my first novel, Enemy in Blue, was written only because I came to Denver approximately ten years ago. Without the incidents here, the story simply would not have manifested. Many of the incidents of police brutality have been high-profile, and have correspondingly received plenty of media attention. Chief Gerry Whitman presided over the department for the last twelve years, and several groups in the Denver community are fine with the end of his tenure.
A large group of community members met with the new police chief, Robert White, last night in North/West Denver. There is an inherent optimism that comes with a new hire. You expect that they are energized, that they were chosen from the best candidates, and that they have the best interests of your community in mind. There was also a general happiness that Chief White agreed to attend this community meeting, especially since he is not yet on the job in Denver, and this was just days after the announcement of his selection to be the Chief.
In all, Chief White performed well. He faced many difficult questions, and did not appear to be “coached.” His responses were direct, non-evasive. He made several commitments, including increased transparency and communication–two enormous issues with his predecessor. He also committed to engendering a culture in the Department where it was understood that the officers served the community, at the community’s pleasure. That it is the community’s money which pays their salaries, and that respect must flow from that fact.
Chief White was asked questions regarding his transition from a community with a low percentage of Latino citizens, to one with a high percentage of the same. He was also asked questions regarding his beliefs on how protests should be handled (i.e. OccupyDenver), and one participant made the savvy remark that the City could save plenty of money by reserving use of SWAT and riot police to break up what has been a peaceful protest in Denver. Finally, he was asked questions regarding how he planned on changing leadership and front-line officers in the Department, to hopefully change the philosophy of the Department itself. Emotions remained relatively calm, although they certainly reached the boiling point on a couple of occasions.
In all, I believe most of the participants in the meeting left cautiously optimistic. There is too much history for it to be swept under the rug after a single meeting, but Chief White showed good effort, and said plenty of the right things. We shall see.
The following are some links to articles regarding Chief White, that give some insight into his background:
“Incoming Denver police chief vows to build success on mutual trust, respect.” http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_19225281
“Career of Robert White, next Denver Police Chief, marked by controversy.” http://www.denverpost.com/commented/ci_19236550?source=commented-
“Robert White will be Denver’s next police chief, and Gerry Whitman will not be his PIO.” http://blogs.westword.com/latestword/2011/10/robert_white_denver_police_chief.php