I was born and raised in Denver, and I am a proud graduate of Denver’s North High School.
Before the start of my career with the Denver Police Department in 1995, I served in the Gulf War as a United States Marine. Service to the community is at the core of who I am as a public safety leader and as a person of color.
That is why I was deeply concerned by the decision by South High School leadership to show a video at a school-wide assembly discouraging students from involving the police if the victim doesn’t want them to when bias-motivated attacks are committed against members of our community.
Even more troubling was the assertion in the video that “Because police have been trained to see people of color, gender non-conforming folks and Muslims as criminals, they often treat victims as perpetrators of violence.”
This is not true of any law enforcement training I’ve ever experienced.
Under my leadership and with the help of Mayor Michael Hancock’s vision, the Denver Police Department has been a leader in sustainable, holistic, and community-focused approaches to complex issues.
These include citywide partnerships to support our communities most impacted by violence; creating the Shared Leadership for Institutional Diversity and Equity Bureau to work in collaboration with employees and community members to identify and eliminate barriers to diversity, equity, and inclusivity.
We implemented a comprehensive suite of alternative response models, including Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD), mental health clinician co-responders, Support Team Assisted Response (STAR), and Outreach Case Coordinators.
And we created the Bias Motivated Investigative Unit and Citywide Outreach to address crimes in which a person is victimized because of their actual or perceived race, color, ancestry, religion, national origin, physical or mental disability, or sexual orientation. Additionally, we work with our diverse communities to address safety concerns and increase our officer training around issues of diversity, fairness, and inclusion.
We fully support efforts around dismantling systemic barriers for minority communities and issues that impact where people feel safe living, working, and playing – including our school communities. However, you cannot espouse the virtues of inclusivity and community and at the same time denigrate and classify police officers as an “other.”
Villainizing the dedicated women and men who are currently serving their community during extremely challenging times only further deteriorates the retention of dedicated officers and hurts our efforts to recruit the type of officers we all want in our departments. Who would want to “be the change they want to see” when community members and certain elected officials go out of their way to call them racists and traitors to their own people?
Colorado and many areas around the country are experiencing record numbers of violent crimes – crimes that disproportionately impact our minority communities.
In Denver, as of August 22, we have experienced 60 homicides. Of those 60 cases where one of our community members’ lives were taken, over 80% of the victims were persons of color in a city that is 55% White.
By vilifying the police, this only decreases the likelihood that an individual from a minority or underrepresented community will report being a victim of a crime or come forward as a witness.
For the individual, this means they will not have access to victim services, health care support, or be able to face their perpetrator through the pursuit of justice in our judicial system – potentially exacerbating the effects of the crime on their long-term quality of life. As a society, this means a violent offender will continue to prey on our neighbors, creating further harm.
I understand there is distrust of police in communities and there are examples – both on an individual level and systemically – that give people reason to be unsure of their willingness to engage with the criminal justice system. But these fissures will not be improved, and we will not be able to move forward as a community if we continue down this path of us versus them.
I am proud of my Denver roots, and I am equally proud of the women and men of the Denver Police Department who step up and proudly serve their community; being the chief of this department is the honor of my life.
I am asking all of us to come together, continue to have conversations, and move forward with evidence-based, smart solutions to the significant challenges we face.
I will always bet on this city and our ability to be an example for what policing and leadership can and should be in these divided times. I am asking you to join me in keeping our community safe.
Paul Pazen is the chief of the Denver Police Department.
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