Updated Jan 26, 2022 - News

Denver's public safety director nominee goes "on record," shares vision

Armando Saldate. Photo: Denver's Department of Public Safety

The nominee to lead Denver's public safety department is outlining his vision ahead of his confirmation — but criminal justice reform advocates remain skeptical that real progress can be achieved.

Driving the news: Mayor Michael Hancock's new pick for public safety director, Armando Saldate, met Tuesday with the task force that put forward more than 100 recommendations to "reimagine" public safety in the wake of George Floyd's murder.

  • Saldate's priorities include curbing homelessness; more "equitably" serving communities of color; improving accountability and transparency; and partnering with community members calling for policing alternatives.
  • The goals of the meeting were to "get him on record" about pursuing the task's force recommendations and to develop a system for working together in the future, task force leader Robert Davis tells Axios.

What they're saying: Ideas that have "really resonated" with him are expanding STAR, the city's alternative police response program, and creating a new city agency proposed by the task force — called the Office of Neighborhood Safety — where Davis says the majority of the task force's recommendations can be implemented.

  • "We need to do better across all our departments, whether its police, fire and sheriff," Saldate told task force members.

The other side: "He's saying some very nice things — that he wants to cooperate, that he wants to work with our community — but the proof will be in the pudding," Davis says. "We've heard all this before."

State of play: Eight months after the task force made its 112 recommendations to rethink policing, Davis says he would give the mayor, district attorney and city council a collective grade of "C or C-minus" in effecting meaningful change.

  • In mid-December, Denver's safety department released an online dashboard with initial responses to 25 of the recommendations — but Davis says the task force plans to "push back" on some initiatives the agency has marked implemented but members say is "inaccurate."
  • And this month, the Denver City Council approved a five-year contract with ShotSpotter, a controversial gun detection technology, striking a blow to criminal justice reform advocates who argue it disproportionately disadvantages Black and Latino communities.

What's next: Saldate needs to be confirmed by the city council, but a voting date has yet to be set, council analyst Emily Lapel tells Axios.

  • Members are expected to give their approval, though his nomination has drawn harsh criticism from at least one councilperson over Saldate’s response to homelessness.
  • Meanwhile, responses to the task force recommendations will be made by spring of 2022, Saldate said Tuesday.

Catch up quick: Mayor Michael Hancock nominated Saldate in early January following Murphy Robinson’s resignation after serving less than 24 months, marking him the third public safety head to step down in two years.

  • Saldate joined the city in 2014 at the Denver Sheriff's Department and is currently the assistant deputy director of the agency.
  • He also helped launch the controversial civilian-led Street Enforcement Team last year to crack down on homeless encampments.

The big picture: As we've previously reported, the police overhaul movement largely lost steam as violent crime has flooded Denver, and the city is spending more money than ever on law enforcement.


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