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Could Ferguson Happen in Denver?

Absolutely—but there's plenty we can do to prevent it.

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On Wednesday, the Colorado Latino Forum (CLF), a nonprofit advocacy group, released a lengthy report about the state of local law enforcement and its troubled relationship with minority communities. The document was issued as a follow-up to a September town hall meeting that addressed these citizens’ concerns about some recent cases involving the use of force by the Denver Police Department and Sheriff Department.

It criticizes these institutions—as well as the offices of Mayor Michael Hancock and District Attorney Mitch Morrissey—not only for the incidents themselves, but for creating and enabling the cultural and economic climate that allowed them to occur. (Although Morrissey declined an invitation to attend the September gathering, his office released a statement after the report’s release saying it welcomes a dialogue.) Local law enforcement has been reeling a bit lately after some high-profile excessive force cases, and the costs of internal reform have begun to mount for the cash-strapped agencies.

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The report recommends steps that could be taken to minimize such incidents, in the form of “a declaration of human rights” that people in and around Denver, particularly minorities, should be able to expect. Among these are increasing the money and resources available to the understaffed agencies, ceasing plans to combine the DPD and DSD, reforming policies about acceptable uses of force, reducing the militarization of the departments’ weaponry, and halting the practice of harassing or disparaging the witnesses and media who report the incidents.

(Side note: Is there anything preventing an excessive force case from automatically being assigned an independent prosecutor? That seemingly simple step might go a long way toward alleviating the public’s increasingly reflexive suspicion of these investigations.)

Regardless of where you stand on these issues politically and philosophically, we all share a responsibility to raise our own awareness of how the system really works, where it’s flawed, and what we can do to ensure that the firestorm of controversy we’ve seen in Ferguson, Mo., and New York City doesn’t land on Colorado soil.

To read the entire 21-page CLF report, click here.

Follow 5280 editor-at-large Luc Hatlestad on Twitter at @LucHatlestad.

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