May 28, 2021 - News

How Black Lives Matter protests are changing Denver's police response

Illustrated collage of a fist in the air and a black lives matter flag

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Kerem Yucel/AFP via Getty Images

One year after protests prompted by the murder of George Floyd rocked downtown Denver, police are acknowledging their response inflamed tensions.

What's new: "We found it's a motivator for some people just seeing officers out there," Denver's deputy division chief Joe Montoya told Axios.

  • The takeaway is leading to a strategy shift centered on "practicing patience and trying to minimize our show of force" for future protests, he added.
  • The agency also is attempting to work more closely with organizers to build rapport and reach agreement on how police can keep such events safe, such as directing traffic.

Why it matters: The Denver Police Department's plans to apply the lessons learned over the past year come amid what activists say will be another "hot" summer of civil unrest.

The big picture: The sweeping changes include tracking the use of less-lethal munitions like pepper balls and tear gas, and requiring that all officers use body cameras during protests.

  • The overhaul comes in response to a report from the Office of the Independent Monitor that determined police's handling of protests last summer was rife with excessive force, poor communication and inadequate record-keeping.

What to watch: Four lawsuits against the city over police's response to the protests are pending in federal court, Denver city attorney Kristin Bronson told Axios.

  • The city also has received notice of another 66 related claims, all of which are still under investigation.
  • Two officers have been disciplined for excessive force used during demonstrations, and another was fired last year for a social media post.
  • Roughly 30 internal affairs investigations are ongoing as of May 7, and at least 90 internal investigations have been closed, a DPD spokesman said, citing the latest data available.

Yes, but: A Democratic bill to prohibit law enforcement from dispersing a demonstration, or deeming it unlawful unless a significant number posed an imminent threat of violence, failed in a state legislative committee.

  • Even an amendment just studying the issue didn't gain traction, in part because Democrats objected to the effort being led by law enforcement.

What they're saying: Rep. Lisa Cutter, a Democrat and bill sponsor, said she hopes to revive the issue next year.

  • "I was disturbed β€” alarmed β€” at some of the things we saw happening here and all across the country at peaceful protests," she said.

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