Denver voters in November could have the chance to give the city’s law enforcement oversight agency more power and remove it from the purview of the mayor’s office.
A pair of bills winding their way through the City Council process would not change the day-to-day work of the Office of the Independent Monitor, but would better insulate the office from conflicts of interest, said Councilwoman Jamie Torres, one of the bill’s sponsors.
“Independence actually needs to mean independence for this office,” Torres said.
The Office of the Independent Monitor oversees all disciplinary investigations in the Denver police and sheriff’s departments and makes policy recommendations for the departments. The office also conducts investigations into specific high-profile incidents, such as the police response to the 2020 George Floyd protests in downtown Denver.
The pair of bills passed one of their first hurdles Wednesday when the City Council’s Safety, Housing, Education & Homelessness Committee approved them with a vote of 6-0. If the full council approves the bills, they will be placed on the Nov. 2 municipal ballot.
The proposed changes include:
- Reassigning power to hire and fire the independent monitor from the mayor to the volunteer Citizen’s Oversight Board. Currently, the mayor appoints the independent monitor and has firing power over the position, just as he has power over the leaders of the public safety agencies the monitor oversees.
- Giving the independent monitor the ability to hire outside attorneys instead of relying solely on the city attorney’s office, which can create a conflict of interest in disagreements between the office and other city departments.
- Reclassifying most staff members of the office as Career Service employees, which affords them more protections than at-will staff. The independent monitor will be an at-will employee under the Citizen Oversight Board.
The proposals have the support of several groups working to reform policing, Torres said, including the ACLU of Colorado and Together Colorado.
“From a community standpoint, this increases transparency and accountability around public safety and law enforcement in Denver,” Gianina Horton, executive director of the Denver Justice Project, said during the committee meeting Wednesday.
Mayor Michael Hancock “is not generally opposed to the proposal at this time,” spokesman Mike Strott said Wednesday in an email.
The bills are not the first time the City Council has attempted to remove the independent monitor’s appointment from the mayor’s powers and are part of an ongoing trend of councilmembers imposing checks on the powers of the executive branch.
Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca proposed in August that the City Council should appoint the monitor as part of a larger measure that would’ve replaced the Denver Police Department with an unarmed peace force, but the measure was rejected.
The bills currently in consideration would also set a timeline for the appointment of new independent monitors. The Citizen Oversight Board would be required to create a search committee within 60 days, present three candidates to the broader Denver community and nominate a finalist within 30 days of that presentation.
There are no such timelines in current city rules. The position of independent monitor has been filled by an interim since Jan. 5, when the previous monitor Nick Mitchell left the position for another job. He announced his resignation two weeks after issuing a report that found Denver police response to the George Floyd protests was deeply flawed.
The five-person committee convened in March to vet candidates has not met with any candidates yet, said Torres, who sits on the committee. The committee decided to contract with a firm to conduct a search and is waiting for that contract to be finalized, she said.
Once the contract is finalized, the committee will meet with people to determine what kind of candidates are needed and solicit applications. The committee will then screen applicants and present them to community members before sending finalists to the mayor, who will appoint a new monitor with the City Council’s confirmation.
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