Denver voters will decide how independent police watchdog is hired

If Mayor Michael Hancock doesn’t appoint the city’s new police watchdog by the November election, he might not ever get the chance.

The City Council unanimously agreed Monday night to place a measure on Denver’s ballot this fall which, if approved, would put the appointment of an independent monitor in the hands of the volunteer Citizen Oversight Board, not the mayor.

The proposal is the culmination of a years-long conversation surrounding the monitor and efforts to make the position more independent of the mayor and more free from potential conflicts of interest.

The Office of the Independent Monitor oversees all disciplinary investigations into Denver’s police and sheriff’s departments, recommends policy changes and investigates incidents like how police handled the George Floyd protests in 2020. Nick Mitchell served as the monitor from 2012 to January when he left to overhaul Los Angeles’ jail system. There is an interim monitor during the search for Mitchell’s permanent replacement.

If the Citizen Oversight Board is given the responsibility to appoint a monitor, the City Council would have to approve it.

There are other changes in front of voters, like allowing the monitor to hire outside attorneys rather than relying on the city attorney’s office and giving most of the office’s employees more protections than at-will staff have.

A five-person committee to replace Mitchell started vetting candidates in March but Councilmember Jamie Torres, who sits on the committee, said earlier this month the group had not yet met with any candidates.

Councilwoman Robin Kniech confirmed that if Hancock does not appoint a new monitor by the election, he could lose the opportunity. She added that she hopes he picks Mitchell’s replacement as soon as possible.

Hancock spokesman Mike Strott said the mayor is not “generally opposed” to the proposals and he plans to nominate Mitchell’s replacement after the screening committee submits their three finalists to him.

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