Denver faith leaders and advocates plan to start a task force that will examine policing practices in Denver and consider how to dismantle the system and rebuild it from the ground up.
The task force, which has the support of Denver police, will be finalized after a series of public meetings — the first on Tuesday — in which leaders hope community members will both lay out their concerns about policing in Denver and suggest people to serve with the group, said Robert Davis, vice president of the Greater Metro Denver Ministerial Alliance, which is helping to organize the effort.
“We’ve done a lot of work trying to improve the current model of policing that has been in existence since the 1800s,” Davis said. “What we’re hearing from the community, through statements like, ‘Defund or abolish the police,’ what they’re actually saying is this current model doesn’t work…The system and the model we’ve been working from is just flawed, and we need to rethink it and come up with something that is new and innovative for the 21st century.”
The first of three community meetings will be held virtually via Zoom at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Davis said. Also involved in the effort are the Denver Citizen Oversight Board, the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado and the Conflict Center. Information on how to join the meeting can be found on the Denver Citizen Oversight Board’s Facebook page.
Davis said the task force will meet privately for about six months after the initial public community meetings, then create a list of recommended changes and present that list to the city.
He hopes the group will include a wide variety of professionals from across Denver, including members of the district attorney’s office, law enforcement, defense attorneys, members of the public school system and mental health professionals.
“There’s a tremendous outcry for transformative change,” said Katina Banks, chair of the Citizen Oversight Board, which is an independent advisory board established by city ordinance. She said the board spoke with both Denver police Chief Paul Pazen and Denver Department of Public Safety Executive Director Murphy Robinson, and both committed to participating in the process — though they stopped short of promising to follow the task force’s recommendations.
“We couldn’t get a blanket commitment on that,” Banks said. “But what I heard was a genuine desire to hear what the community has to say.”
She added she’s seen a shift in the attitudes of the city’s public safety officials.
“From my experience on the board, and observing how things are handled and managed, historically the general response for the most part has been, ‘We’re doing things well and we’re interested in improving,’ ” she said. “That’s what we typically hear — an unwillingness to admit problems. And while I’ve not heard expressed examples of the problems they see, I think there is an acknowledgment now that there are problems. That’s a shift.”
Denver police will have personnel involved in both Tuesday’s meeting and with the group moving forward, spokesman Sonny Jackson said Thursday, although he did not yet know who from the department would participate or in what capacity.
“It is a community-led group coming together to ask some questions, and work on some answers and we will be working with them and supporting their efforts,” he said.
Kelli Christensen, a spokeswoman for the Department of Public Safety, said the city welcomes community input but that she’s not yet sure how the department will be involved in the effort long-term.
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