Denver police representatives leave community group tasked with rethinking policing

Barely half a year after Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said it was time to get to work to restructure the city’s police and sheriff’s departments, a citizen-led effort must now move forward without police as part of the group.

This month, Public Safety Director Murphy Robinson pulled the city’s four law enforcement representatives out of Denver’s Reimagine Policing and Public Safety Task Force and denied the group’s request for $50,000 for administrative costs and salaries. The task force is expected to submit its recommendations to the city in the coming months, though that work will no longer contain input from law enforcement, co-lead Robert Davis said.

The Jan. 13 removal was first reported by Denverite and comes after Robinson said he felt law enforcement representatives on the task force — including Sheriff Elias Diggins — were only there to speak when spoken to rather than to actively participate. Davis disagreed with Robinson, saying the officers provided crucial insight into the city’s practices and policies.

Formed this summer during the George Floyd protests, the task force was a way to rethink policing. At the time, there were also widespread calls to defund the police department.

“This is the very worst moment in our city and our nation for police and law enforcement to pull out of any type of community conversation,” Davis said.

The panel is made up of about 60 people with extra room at its weekly meetings for city council members and their staff, Davis said.

Panel member Skupe Smith-Trent, 22, said Robinson only attended a single meeting and spoke to the group dismissively and insensitively.

“It’s kind of disheartening looking at someone who looks like you and your views don’t align,” Smith-Trent said.

And Caleb Washington, 17, who sits on the task force with Smith-Trent on behalf of Project VOYCE — a local organization that tries to fix inequities in underserved communities — expressed disappointment at Robinson’s decision to remove the officers from the panel.

“It was very healing already to do this work with police officers,” Washington said. “Being in conversations with them, seeing their perspectives, them seeing our perspectives, was building connections with the police department.”

Robinson, however, criticized the task force, saying it has yet to propose any concrete changes.

“We wasted seven months. Nothing’s been done,” Robinson said. “Seven months is a lot of time to go by without bearing fruit.”

That’s not an accurate assessment, said Tezcatli Diaz, civic engagement and fundraising lead for Project VOYCE. The task force began meeting in September with the understanding that specific policy discussions wouldn’t begin until this month.

“Not everybody started on the same level of understanding,” Washington added. “We had to build common knowledge.”

Davis said he believes the task force will give the city its recommendations on how to change policing by the end of March. He also believes Robinson’s decision to pull the police representatives off the panel was driven by emotion and an attempt to discredit any findings.

Robinson has promised to consider the recommendations to see what could be adopted. A spokesman for the mayor echoed that pledge.

There’s also a December report from the city’s police watchdog hanging out there that found Denver police were ill-prepared to respond to the Black Lives Matter protests and used excessive force. Davis said the task force hasn’t “as of yet” identified “officers who are going to be held accountable for the misconduct.”

During and after the protests, Hancock and Robinson promised concrete change to the city’s police and sheriff’s departments, though it appears little has materialized. Both reiterated their commitments Thursday.

Robinson has restarted an internal Community Outreach Program that will draft policy recommendations and open lines of communication between city residents and law enforcement. He said he expects concrete policy ideas from the program — which had been paused in favor of working with Davis’ group — by the end of the quarter.

“I think we are living in a time where we have to move quickly to capitalize on the moment,” he said. “And set the tone for the nation on what criminal justice can look like.”

But Denver has seen city-run groups like that before, Diaz said, and hopes Robinson will bring law enforcement representatives back to the task force.

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