December 1, 2022

Denver’s new police chief targets community collaborations

By Michael Renee Giles
Denver Urban Spectrum (via AP Storyshare)

Denver Police Chief Ron Thomas. Photo by Michael Renee Giles

Despite the countless stories published across the country of the abuse of jurisdiction and force in handling citizen encounters in Denver, Colorado, a new sense of hope accompanies Ron Thomas’ swearing-in as the new Denver Police Chief. The event took place on October 18, a day after the Denver City Council consented to the nomination of Mayor Michael Hancock.

Thomas replaces former Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen, who retired Oct. 15 after a 28-year career with the department.

Thomas hopes to change the narrative of what it means to be a police officer and a public servant for the community.

“I think it’s very important for us to understand that we are public servants, that we work for the community, and I want everyone in the city of Denver to understand that we work for them,” Thomas says.

The longtime Denver resident served 33 years with the Denver Police Department (DPD), beginning his training at the academy in 1989. He was inspired by his parents to continue their legacy as public servants. With a mother working in social services and a postman father, he wanted to one day find his unique way to support his community. The inspiration led to his remarkable success and contribution to protecting the Denver metro area with the DPD.

Thomas was fortunate enough to intern at the DPD as a public safety cadet while at the University of Colorado at Denver, where he majored in criminal justice while studying sociology and psychology.

He shares, “This opportunity really brought me closer to what police officers actually do and the impact police officers can have on their community and the people they interact with on a daily basis, and it narrowed my focus to wanting to use the police department, where I wanted to provide service to the community. »

The new leader hopes to underline what it means to be a public servant after multiple protests against the department’s excessive use of force when dealing with specific appeals.

“I believe right now there are communities that don’t believe the DPD is working for them, and that’s not true, but I know we need to do a better job of making sure everyone understand that,” he said. Explain.

Thomas hopes to focus on many issues in the community involving rebuilding trust within Denver’s diverse communities, reducing the overall crime rate, and engaging with more community partners limiting contact between police and citizens. for low level incidents.

“There are a number of issues I want to focus on; one is that crime is significantly higher than it has been for the past few years, so I really want to bring it down. I know there are several hotspots where the majority of crime (especially violent crime) occurs, so focusing specifically on these hotspots using a variety of tactics and partnering with community organizations and d ‘other city partners to address the infrastructure and other social correlates that relate to crime in these communities,’ explains Thomas.

He goes on to say, “The second thing is to take a look at all of our calls and see which of the calls don’t necessarily need an agent to answer and answer that call. There are many service calls that can be answered over the phone or online, so work with our Denver 9-1-1 partners to let people know when they contact them on the phone that there are additional options including they dispose to report a crime rather than having officers show up at their doorstep.

The DPD has a robust co-responder system with 40 co-responder mental health clinicians available to help respond to calls involving acute mental health crises or addictions. He mentions the STAR program (Support Team Assisted Response).

“It’s a group of mental health clinicians and paramedics who show up in a van and respond to calls that have no violent component. It’s usually someone who has some sort of addiction or mental health issue. No officers are involved in this,” says Thomas, who points out that by applying the experts to these particular issues, the police are allowed to focus more on violent crime.

On the note of rebuilding trust within the community, Thomas acknowledges that he provided a response to the 112 recommendations from the Public Safety Reinventing Committee which pledged to work with the police department as members of society expressing the needs and demands within the community to advance public safety.

“It was a committee that came together and explained that they really wanted to see public safety in a form that was more sensitive to the needs of the community, in particular the needs of disadvantaged communities, so we have already implemented probably 74% of these recommendations. There are very few recommendations that we have not yet adopted or plan to adopt.

“The handful that we’ve chosen not to adopt, there’s really more of a legal piece, or it’s really outside of our scope to really make a change there, but hopefully that’s okay. to be helpful in getting people to understand that we’re really working for them because it’s a community-led working group that has come up with recommendations that we broadly support.

Most of the committee’s recommendations relate to community policing, where officers are less involved in physical interactions with citizens. Thomas hopes to prioritize leveraging technology, including speedometers and cameras as well as community accident report technicians, to enforce the law while limiting the number of interactions between police and individuals in response to some of the committee’s 112 requests.

“The committee suggested that we prevent the police from contacting citizens for traffic and other justifications. In response, we hired 36 accident report technicians. It’s civilians who respond to traffic accidents and write the reports, so there’s no police involvement in that,” says Thomas. “We are also deploying photo radar vans so they can issue tickets to people speeding, and no police action there. There are also red light cameras and things like that, so we provide security without having to present a uniformed police officer. There are ways to enforce certain laws without having to introduce a uniformed police officer.

The DPD veteran also discusses efforts in sensitivity training for Denver police officers, saying, “Each of our officers have gone through what we call ABLE training – Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement, and that’s really an early intervention program, so it teaches how to intervene when a situation seems to be going in the wrong direction.

The department has also adopted the national Integrated Communication, Assessment and Tactics (ICAT) training to better support officers in successful de-escalation practices.

He describes it as “a national best practice de-escalation concept that teaches how to use tactical placement as well as continuous assessment of a unique situation and communication skills to solve problems without having to use force. It’s just a better de-escalation concept that’s been proven in areas where it’s been deployed across the country to have significant reductions in physical use of force by officers and injuries to community members .

As Thomas steps into the role of Denver’s new police chief, he says, “I plan on doing more collaborations. There were a lot of innovations that Chief Pazen initiated, and I want to continue with those things that were positive, and I want to be an even bigger collaborator with the community than he was.