Chief Pazen Says DPD Can, Will Do Better

Denver Police Chief
Paul Pazen

 “If you look at our use of force policy, and compare it to other places, it’s very progressive,” Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen said during a June 4 interview with The Denver North Star, the day of George Floyd’s memorial service. “Even with that, we need to seize this moment to do better. Don’t dig in and say everything is fine — quite the opposite — ask how can we do better.”

Denver Police have come under increased scrutiny for allegations of using unnecessary force being against protestors in downtown Denver following the death of George Floyd, who died after being pinned to the ground by police in Minnesota.

Mayor Hancock elevated Pazen from Northwest Denver District 1 commander to police chief two years ago, describing his record with words such as “innovation” and “collaboration.” Elevated community tensions with police will likely test those words.

Only the second Latino to serve as Denver’s Police Chief, Pazen views himself as a community member first. He grew up in North Denver with a single mother, attended DPS, graduated North High School, and, aside from a few years in the Marine Corps, has lived in the city his entire life.

He points to the community’s involvement in creating the current use of force policy as evidence of collaboration and how he wants to move forward. That committee had representation from a number of community groups including the ACLU and The Ministerial Alliance.

One of those committee members was Lisa Calderón, now Denver Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca’s chief of staff. Calderón taught criminal justice at Regis University and served as Co-chair of the Colorado Latino Forum at the time.

“The problem isn’t the policy,” said Calderón. “The problem is the implementation of that policy,” commenting on allegations that Denver police have fired “less lethal” munitions such as tear gas at protestors without provocation. Calderón also took issue with the idea that the process was inclusive, saying community activists had to fight with the police union and former police chief White to get any concessions on the part of Denver Police.

During his interview with The Denver North Star, Pazen spoke in specifics about past actions but took a more aspirational tone about the future, much as he did in an online town hall the night before.

“We required 8 hours of training for every member of the department, including myself,” Pazen said about use of force training, noting there was another 20 hours dedicated specifically to de-escalation techniques.

Another important past change for Pazen includes differences in procedure for Denver and Minneapolis, where Floyd was killed.

“We prohibit what we saw in Minnesota,” referring to pinning a person to the ground by the neck. Denver police policy prohibits such pinning, but rather says individuals should be placed on their sides and then sat up. Denver officers are also required “to intervene” if they observe another officer acting inappropriately.

Pazen also highlighted the department’s recent and speed-record-breaking firing of the Denver police officer who posted “let’s start a riot” on his Instagram page while in police riot gear as a sign of progress, as well as a rare lack of opposition from the police union for the firing.

Asked about more specific changes he wants to see in the future, he talked about ideals of community involvement and the importance of systemic change in Denver and across the country but provided few concrete details. “We are ready, willing, and able to listen and do the hard work,” he said. Denver City Council members are expected to consider several reform proposals in the near future.

Regarding national issues, “No,” Pazen responded simply, when asked if he supports President Trump’s proposal to use the Insurrection Act to mobilize military forces in U.S. cities.

Denver police have been criticized recently for not arresting a woman alleged to have intentionally struck a protestor with her car in late May. Online activists released personal information about who they believe she is. Authorities have not confirmed nor denied if they have identified the driver despite videos and photographs that have circulated widely. Calling it an “open and ongoing investigation,” Pazen declined to comment on the matter “for the integrity of the case,” saying sometimes arrests happen quickly and sometimes it takes longer. He did ask, however, to be clear that the police did not release any details and the possible ID was the work of individuals outside the police department. The Denver North Star will be following that case and others related to the protests in future issues.


Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.