Denver Manager of Public Safety Al LaCabe is set to go before the city's Civil Service Commission today to make his case for modernizing the disciplinary system used to deal with misconduct by members of the Denver Police Department.
The union representing Denver's police officers will argue there's no need for change, or possibly offer an alternative that would merely alter the standard of proof in disciplinary cases.
Today's hearing should be a pivotal step toward improving the credibility and accountability of law enforcement in Colorado's largest city, and we urge the commissioners to adopt LaCabe's plan.
Under the proposed "discipline matrix," which is similar to policies in Phoenix, Los Angeles and Oakland, Calif., officers would know in advance the penalties associated with various types of misconduct. That's a big improvement over a system that bases officer discipline on sanctions that are limited to the range of action taken for similar offenses during the previous three years, as Denver's system has for far too long.
This vague, outdated approach moves too slowly, lacks written guidelines and is woefully inconsistent. Worst of all, it is shaped by past societal attitudes instead of reflecting community standards as they have evolved and progressed.
The department should not be bound by precedents that were set at a time, for instance, that society did not take as seriously issues such as excessive use of force, domestic violence or drunken driving as it now (correctly) does.
Some officers have been suspended or demoted for offenses that in other instances might draw a mere reprimand. The lack of consistency has spurred appeals; they drag out the discipline process for months or even years longer than is reasonable.
The Denver Police Protective Association contends LaCabe's proposed revision is an illegal change to the city charter. The union says it's prepared to challenge any change in court.