Denver City Council kills CdeBaca proposal to replace police department with peace force

Denver City Council quashed a proposal Monday night from Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca which would have asked voters in November to abolish the Denver Police Department and create a “peace force” in its place.

The long-shot measure lacked details and was almost certain to fail.

CdeBaca said it was still useful to force her colleagues to take a stance on race relations and police reform, which bubbled to the surface once more during Denver’s George Floyd protests.

While the measure did force the rest of council to vote — only CdeBaca voted for the measure and Councilman Chris Hinds abstained — it also alienated CdeBaca from the rest of the group. Some council members said they might support shifting cash away from law enforcement but chided the councilwoman for leaving them out of the process meant to workshop such ballot measures.

Rather than submitting her proposal to the council’s committees — of which she said she’s mistrustful — CdeBaca filed them directly onto the group’s Monday agenda late last week. That afforded the group little time to understand the measure and even less time to suggest changes.

Some on council said they’d rather revitalize current law enforcement institutions while others said they were given too little time to vote on such a substantial proposal.

“We create better policy when 13 council members are working together on it,” Councilman Paul Kashmann said.

“You make it feel like it’s us versus you and I’m telling you that it’s not,” Councilwoman Amanda Sandoval later added.

Still, all council members who spoke acknowledged more work must be done to resolve inherent inequities within Denver’s law enforcement organizations.

After it was published last week, the proposal itself drew swift condemnation from Mayor Michael Hancock, which he followed Monday morning with a full-on assault on the idea with Public Safety Director Murphy Robinson, Police Chief Paul Pazen and newly appointed Sheriff Elias Diggins at his side.

Hancock called the notion “corrosive” and “ill-informed” while Robinson said city officials should work to fix problems within the police and sheriff departments rather than yielding to a “small but vocal” minority.

Pazen said defunding, abolishing or replacing his department could discourage people from living, working and playing in Denver, costing jobs and tax revenue. Diggins, who took over his position last month, said he’s working to transform his department and fill it with staff who lead with their humanity.

CdeBaca’s proposal comes without transparency, accountability and community involvement or conversation, Hancock said. He called the move “reckless” and “hypocritical.”

Councilman Kevin Flynn, and others, reiterated those points Monday evening.

But there has been a community conversation, CdeBaca said. City officials just haven’t been listening, she said.

“The community has had an open, aggressive and clear conversation with us as they marched in the streets, protested, graffitied, broke windows and as they wrote ‘Abolish the police’ all over our streets, walls and buildings,” Cdebaca said. “That is a community conversation and it is reflective of how we diminish their voices if it is not on their terms.”

While Hancock and public safety officials praise Denver as a leader in police reform, CdeBaca noted that most of those reforms — many of which Hancock listed during the conference — grew out of community outrage rather than a proactive approach from city leadership.

Changes in training for police and deputies dealing with those suffering from mental illnesses came after jail deputies killed Michael Marshall in 2015 as he suffered a psychotic episode.

Policy changes on whether officers can shoot into a moving vehicle came after police shot and killed 17-year-old Jessica Hernandez in 2015 and Ryan Ronquillo in 2014.

The Sheriff’s Department only banned chokeholds after deputies choked and killed Marvin Booker, an inmate, in 2010. That ban was only strengthened in June during Denver’s second week of George Floyd protests. At the same time, officers were required to alert supervisors whenever they point a gun at someone and SWAT officers were required to use body-worn cameras during tactical operations.

Police shot peaceful protesters in those weeks with foam projectiles and blanketed people and neighborhoods in tear gas so brutally that City Council members called for an investigation on their use of force.

And police handled the protests that poorly despite all the past reforms, CdeBaca said. This shows those moves haven’t worked. Instead, the city must shift the very foundation of Denver’s law enforcement agencies.

“Right now, there is not a single reform that will work because the fox is guarding the henhouse,” she said. “There are no real accountability mechanisms for us to make a reform in Denver.”

Still, Hancock used a spike in violent crimes to underscore Denver’s need of police.

The city is on course to have the highest number of homicides seen in Denver in a single year since 2004.

Nobody denies more work is needed, said Council President Stacie Gilmore. But if a measure is rushed to the ballot and fails, a second attempt will be much more difficult.

“This is way too important to mess this up by going too fast,” Gilmore said.

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