Denver’s police chief repeatedly promised change and accountability in a virtual town hall Wednesday evening, but provided few specifics about what that would look like.
Chief Paul Pazen fielded more than a dozen wide-ranging questions during the virtual town hall attended by more than 1,200 people. Questions flooded the online forum, including dozens about police injuring peaceful protesters with tear gas and pepper balls.
More than 1,400 questions and comments were posted during the hour-long event, police spokesman Sonny Jackson said. They ranged from questions about whether toxic masculinity negatively affects police culture to how the department keeps white supremacists out of the department.
Others were more direct: “Can u stop with the rubber bullets please please please.” Police have fired foam bullets at crowds during Denver’s George Floyd protests.
Pazen walked with protesters Monday and acknowledged the depth of the anguish and pain about police brutality toward black people that sparked the days of demonstrations.
“This is a start of a movement,” Pazen said. “This is a tipping point.”
Some of the comments and questions also suggested a complete dismantling of the current policing system. Pazen was asked what he would do if he could completely rebuild the policing system.
“Wow. That’s a great question, and I don’t have an answer,” the chief said.
Pazen strongly condemned a social media post by a rookie police officer captioned “Let’s start a riot.”
“What was said in that post really served to escalate tensions,” Pazen said.
He didn’t offer the same condemnation for the officers who shot less-than-lethal projectiles and gas at peaceful people, however. He promised a thorough investigation into the incidents and said that he’s seen some actions that he’s “not proud of,” though he didn’t specify what those things were.
“I can certainly apologize to the peaceful folks who were negatively affected by this; it certainly wasn’t our intent,” he said.
Pazen said the department would take a step back and, with the community’s input, re-examine the department’s use of force policy, hiring and training.
He said he supports the creation of a law that would make it illegal for officers not to intervene when a fellow officer is using excessive force, which the state’s largest law enforcement organizations have also thrown their support behind. He also said he supported expanding programs that use social workers, counselors and nurses instead of police officers in some situations. The department established a co-responder program in 2016 that pairs a behavior health profession with officers for 911 calls involving mental health needs.
“It’s important that our department listens,” Pazen said. “Of course, words are just words until they become actions.”
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