DENVER — Police Chief Robert White said he'll be out front and provide as much information as possible on police misconduct cases that arise on his watch, while trying to speed up the disciplinary process.
White took over a department last month that has been plagued by repeated allegations of excessive force in recent years. Mayor Michael Hancock tapped the former Louisville, Ky., police chief to take over the 1,400-member department that Hancock said needs to work on restoring public confidence.
To that end, White said he'll be open with the community about whether an officer is right or wrong. And on internal affairs investigations, White said he's considering enacting a 90-day deadline to complete them, with time extensions granted for good reasons. Such investigations recently have taken several months, even years to complete.
"We've got to show the community that we are more than capable of managing ourselves and disciplining ourselves," White said in an interview Tuesday with The Associated Press. "We have to say, 'Hey, this officer did everything according to our policies or procedures,' or preliminarily, 'I have a lot of unanswered questions as related to the conduct of this police officer.'"
Just five weeks into his job, White said he is discovering a cumbersome and lengthy disciplinary process that he and his boss, Manager of Safety Alex Martinez said needs to be changed. The process includes the independent monitor, the Civil Service Commission, and the department's internal affairs investigation process that includes reviews by police supervisors and other department leaders.
"In five departments in 39 years of doing this, there are more layers in this disciplinary process than I've ever seen," White said. He started his career with the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington in 1972, worked as the public safety director for D.C.'s housing authority, and served as police chief in Greensboro, N.C., before taking the top post at Louisville's police department.
"I want to look at the time it takes to do those (internal affairs) investigations. I want to look at the number of people who are weighing in. Quality and the timing. Those are the type of things I'm looking for," White said.
Richard Rosenthal, head of the Office of Independent Monitor that was created in 2005 following a string of deadly police shootings in the early 2000s which included the death of unarmed man and a developmentally disabled teen, blasted the department for the length of time it takes to complete internal investigations. Rosenthal, in a scathing report issued before he left earlier this month for a similar position in British Columbia, suggested the department was purposely dragging its feet on investigations.
Rosenthal also publicly called for a civil rights investigation.
In two high profile cases, the department and the manager of safety's office have fired the officers involved. Two officers shown on video throwing a man to the ground outside a downtown nightclub in 2009 were fired after a nearly two-year process. They were reinstated, which the city is appealing.
In April, two other officers were fired over allegations they lied about their actions during arrests caught on one of the city's surveillance cameras. The video from the July 2009 arrests shows one officer using a billy club to shove some women to the ground outside a downtown eatery. He is seen near a woman on her knees when a second officer sprays mace in her face and then sprays the crowd.
Those officers were reinstated this month by a Civil Service Commission panel, although that decision is also being appealed. One of the officers in that case was also involved in the beating of Alexander Landau, who suffered brain injuries and trauma during a 2009 traffic stop that resulted in a $795,000 settlement with the city.
Between 2008 and 2011, the city averaged about $900,000 each year in excessive force settlements.
In Louisville, White said he was consulted before cases were settled, sometimes in cases where the officer wasn't at fault. In those cases, city attorneys believed they couldn't win, he said.
"Sometimes you have to say this is an issue that we're going to fight," White said. "We might go into this losing but there is more value in taking this one through the process.
"I'm not the guy to make those decisions, but I think those decisions should be made with the understanding of the consequences of the outcome."
The Denver city attorney's office has said it settled the lawsuits without acknowledging liability in order to avoid lengthy and costly legal battles.