In early January, the Denver Police Department announced they would be revising the use-of-force policy outlined in the 744-page Operations Manual. On Saturday, citizens will get one more opportunity to provide input on the policy draft at the third and final community meeting to discuss these changes.
The updated policy, which was written by Denver Police Chief Robert White’s command staff, is in response to the public’s changing expectations for law enforcement and aims to keep both officers and citizens safe, White said in his announcement in January. The revisions follow a series of high-profile police shootings of unarmed black men that initiated the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Citizens have raised the bar as it relates to what they expect from the police department,” White said in his announcement. “They raised the bar, so I think it’s only appropriate that we raise the bar also.”
The updated policy focuses on “de-escalation,” a concept that maintains that officers will, “avoid demeanor, tactics, and actions that unduly jeopardize safety or hinder successful incident resolution,” the draft states. Any use of force that fails to meet the requirements of “necessary, reasonable, and appropriate” will be deemed as “inappropriate force,” and the officers involved will be subject to discipline.
The new policy defines new terms, such as deadly force, imminent, and reasonable and necessary force, outlines a decision-making model to help guide officers in their responses, and provides guiding principles for when force should be used. The draft also includes a “Resistance and Response Chart,” which showcases a general range of response options for officers based on an individual’s level of resistance.
Overall, the changes encourage officers to slow down and use the tools outlined in policy to evaluate situations more effectively by using time and space to their advantage. The focus is on using the minimal amount of necessary force instead of what would be considered legal.
“There will come times where those officers have no other alternatives,” White said in an interview with Denver7. “But there will comes times when perhaps their actions were totally legal, but were they necessary?”
The policy draft was met with support from groups such as The Fraternal Order of Police, which has 6,000 Colorado members, but not everyone is on board. Criticism from organizations that felt they should have been consulted, including Denver’s Citizen Oversight Board, the Police Protective Association, and Colorado Latino Forum, led DPD to hold a series of community forums so attendees can give feedback about the changes.
The Denver Post has also sought independent reviews of the proposed policy from criminal justice experts, many of whom said that while the DPD’s revisions align with the guidelines laid out in the National Consensus Policy on Use of Force, which was released January 11, there is room for improvement, as some areas in the draft were described as “murky” or “vague.”
White’s goal is to have the final policy in place by March 1, and for training for all officers to be complete by midsummer.
Get involved: You can review the policy draft here and check out the entire manual here. The last community meeting about the updated Use of Force policy takes place February 4 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Red Shield Community Center, 2915 High St. The public can also comment on the policy by e-mailing DPDPlanning@denvergov.org.
Read our September 2015 feature, “Inside the Denver Police Department.”