Chief Whitman has thought about that night often. Every time one of his officers has fired a controversial and fatal shot, and Whitman's had to decide whether or not the shoot was "clean" and necessary, the first question he's asked himself is, "What would I have done?" Take the Childs shooting, for example.
Chief Gerry Whitman raises his right hand, swears to tell nothing but the truth, and sits behind a microphone propped on a folding table. On this October morning, a few weeks after the Dadiotis funeral, Whitman is inside the Denver Civil Service Commission building, testifying in a proceeding that will determine the professional fate of Officer James Turney, the cop who killed Paul Childs. "I guess when you're the chief," one of the attorneys asks Whitman, "you're sometimes on the hot seat." The chief straightens in his chair and smoothes a kink from his tie. In the same deadpan delivery he'd used that day, sitting in his SUV, he replies, "Always."
Whitman had soared through the ranks, from patrol officer to the hot seat of chief. The quick thinking he demonstrated with the knife-wielding car thief served him well on the streets and during tests for promotions. In a little more than 12 years-a remarkably short period by DPD standards-Whitman advanced three ranks to captain. In 1995, at the age of 39, he was put in charge of patrol for District Six, which encompasses the high-crime corridor along East Colfax Avenue. There, he started the department's first bike-patrol unit, not because he wanted to pick the uniforms (though he did), but because he wanted his officers as close to the community as they could be. Only five years later, in 2000, during the tense months following the Mena shooting, Mayor Webb was so impressed by Whitman's record that he asked him to serve as interim chief of police. Whitman agreed to step into what he thought was his dream job and began the process of formally applying for the post. Six months later, in July 2000, when Webb officially offered Whitman the position, he had a pretty good taste of the job, and before he accepted he replied that he needed time to first talk with his wife.
Whitman met Nancy in 1989, while working a second job as security guard at the state credit union where she was an administrative assistant. He was single and 34; she was 24 with a boyfriend who thought he wanted to be a cop. Whitman took the kid on a ride-along that "must have scared the shit out of him because the next week he enlisted in the Army or something and disappeared." Two years later, Whitman and Nancy married. Nancy didn't need to be talked into her husband taking the Top Cop job. By then, they'd had two children and been together for almost 10 years. She knew, as she says, that "being chief was always his plan." By talking things through with his wife, Whitman, at least in part, was reminding himself why, knowing what he did after six months on the job, he would want to continue managing the DPD. He told his wife, "Here's the deal: When you get into something that's perceived as political and you're so high profile, people criticize you a lot. Internally and externally. But with that comes an ability to change things the way you want. Instead of going, 'Boy, here's what I'd do,' now's your chance to do something."