Aug 31, 2022 - News

Denver police chief Paul Pazen retires amid pressure after 28 years

Denver police chief Paul Pazen. Photo: Helen H. Richardson/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Denver police chief Paul Pazen is retiring on Oct. 15 after nearly 30 years with the force, Mayor Michael Hancock's office announced Wednesday.

Why it matters: His departure comes as violent crime in Denver is on pace to hit an all-time high this year and a grand jury is investigating several of his officers in connection with a downtown shooting that injured six bystanders in July.

  • The news also follows heightened scrutiny over Pazen's leadership, particularly following a federal jury's verdict earlier this year requiring the city to pay $14 million for its response to the 2020 George Floyd protests.

What they're saying: "It's important to me that the next police chief take the reins at this time so the department and our officers are well positioned for the future of policing in our community," Pazen said in a statement.

  • Hancock's spokesperson Mike Strott told Axios Denver the decision to step down was Pazen's, not the mayor's.

Catch up quick: Hancock appointed Pazen in June 2018, making him the second Latino chief of police in Denver history.

  • The past three years of Pazen's tenure have including leading the department through the COVID-19 pandemic and racial justice protests, as well as navigating staff shortages across the agency.
  • As chief, Pazen emphasized the importance of data-driven strategies and introduced a new initiative to target crime in "hot spot" areas where rates of violence are highest.
  • Pazen also advocated for the expansion of police alternative initiatives, as well as the creation of the STAR program, which sends mental health specialists instead of uniformed officers to some low-level 911 calls.

The other side: Robert Davis, project coordinator for a task force that made policy change recommendations for local police and a vocal critic of the chief, said he was shocked to learn Pazen was retiring.

  • "He took us, as a city, backwards in his philosophical approach to policing," Davis told Axios Denver, adding that under his tenure, police did not face enough accountability, and the chief failed to listen to the community's needs.

Between the lines: Pazen's name has been mentioned as a potential mayoral candidate, but his critics suggest his candidacy would be an uphill battle.

  • "It's been high time for Chief Pazen to go. Record payouts for police brutality, a DPD mass shooting & lost community trust. ... If Pazen even thinks about running for mayor we're ready," Lisa Calderón, former Denver mayoral candidate and executive director of Emerge Colorado, tweeted after Wednesday's announcement.

What's next: Hancock has selected Ron Thomas as his nominee to be the next police chief — which will require Denver City Council approval.

  • Council president Jamie Torres told Axios Denver she's looking forward to meeting with Thomas over the next few weeks and hopes, whoever steps into the role, will make communication and accountability top priorities.
  • "I think everyone across the board wants a department that everyone is really proud of," she said.
  • Thomas will assume the role of acting chief starting Sept. 6, according to the mayor's office.

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