Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?
Our mission is to reverse the trend of mass incarceration in Colorado. We are a coalition of nearly 7,000 individual members and over 100 faith and community organizations who have united to stop perpetual prison expansion in Colorado through policy and sentence reform.
Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.
Denver police officers have reduced the number of investigations they initiate on their own, a slowdown some attribute to unhappiness over a move toward stricter discipline of cops in trouble.
In the month of August, when Safety Manager Ron Perea resigned under fire for what were perceived as lenient discipline decisions, officer-initiated investigations dropped by nearly 25 percent from August a year ago, a decline of nearly 4,500 incidents, according to Police Department data.
In the last week of that month, as the controversy over a police beating captured on video became more intense, such police activity was down nearly 33 percent from the number recorded a year earlier.
The drops can't be explained by a crime wave that would have left officers with less free time. Citizen-initiated calls for help actually declined slightly from a year earlier, meaning officers should have had more time — not less — to start investigations on their own.
"I've heard from officers that there is concern about the complexity of the discipline process and the fact that some investigations have been reopened," Police Chief Gerry Whitman said. "I can see why the officers would have anxiety, but they are still out there doing a great job."
Like most large agencies, Denver police track the number of incidents they handle by categorizing them. Some are prompted by citizen calls to 911. Others are called "Type 2" — initiated by officers, often in patrol, who make a traffic stop, or see a broken window, a fight in progress or something else that seems amiss.
Why the activity matters
The decline in officer-initiated actions should prompt concern, said George Kelling, a nationally recognized crime-fighting strategist who in 2006 advised Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper on a data-driven overhaul of the city's police force.
"You want a high level of self-initiated police activity for people doing minor (criminal) activity," said Kelling, whom former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani credits with coming up with tactics that drove down crime in New York in the 1990s. "When you cease to do that, you send out the message that you don't care. The theory is that people will then carry out more and more minor criminal activity and more major criminal activity as well."
In August, a public outcry developed over Perea's decision to keep on the force two officers accused of covering up the beating of a 23-year-old man.
Perea originally found that the officers made inaccurate statements on their official reports and suspended each without pay for three days. But even after viewing a video made by a surveillance camera that appears to show the citizen doing nothing more than using his cellphone before an officer throws him to the ground, Perea found no excessive force by the officers. Perea said it was reasonable to conclude the officers feared the man was trying to strike one of the them.
After the video became public, the Police Department reopened the investigation following intense criticism from activists and community leaders. Mayor John Hickenlooper asked the FBI to review the case, an investigation that remains underway.
Perea's refusal to fire another officer accused of handcuffing and brutalizing a man who had complained that the officer was being lazy for failing to investigate a crime also generated controversy later in August.
On Aug. 23, Perea rescinded his discipline decision in that second case and resigned the same day. A final decision on what will happen to that officer still is pending from the new acting safety manager, Mary Malatesta, who oversees the city's Police Department.
Cops protecting themselves
Although reluctant to discuss the situation publicly because their collective-bargaining agreements prohibit officers from initiating a work slowdown, police privately say the reversals in those two cases have made them less likely to take proactive crime-fighting action.