A Response to Denver Law Enforcement’s Departure From Task Force To Reimagine Policing

The response letter below was sent to Director of Safety Murphy Robinson on January 20 following an email to Dr. Robert Davis informing him that Robinson and his representatives with the Denver Police Department would pull out of the community-led Task Force to Reimagine Policing and Public Safety.

Interfaith Alliance of Colorado has participated in this task force since its inception, and we post this letter here to increase its visibility and stand alongside Dr. Davis and other members of the task force.

The work of this task force will continue regardless of DPD’s involvement, but we we urge law enforcement and Director Robinson to reconsider their decision to leave the table. We wish to be partners in the work to reshape and reform the systems that have harmed vulnerable communities. We encourage law enforcement to rejoin us as we reimagine public safety and work to create a safer and more equitable Denver.

Dr. Robert Davis serves as the Project Coordinator for the community-led Task Force to Reimagine Policing and Public Safety 

Executive Director Robinson, 

I am in receipt of your email. Thank you for updating me on the status of your department’s involvement with the Task Force. I regret that we have reached this point, because I deem your participation, and that of your department, essential to this vital work. Unfortunately, a significant portion of the information you based your decision on was factually inaccurate, which I have attempted to correct below: 

1. “…you asked them [law enforcement] not to attend or participate in meetings and community discussion.” 

Law enforcement officials were only asked to not join one meeting, January 7, 2021. The reason was to give community members an opportunity to discuss next steps, their personal philosophical ideas about policing and public safety, and the direction the Task Force should proceed. In light of the feedback from your presentation, the facilitation team wanted to give the Task Force members an opportunity to speak freely about their thoughts and to be transparent about this work. 

Our decision to ask law enforcement to not attend that one meeting was informed by research on trauma in community conversations, as well as multiple conversations with various Task Force members. I shared some of that research with you and your department in my December 18, 2020 email. 

2. “…you mischaracterized my comments and made disparaging remarks about my demeanor.” 

On December 17, 2020 we presented the ”Task Force Statement on Trauma in Community Conversations.” In that document we referenced statements that community members shared with us about comments you made when meeting with the Task Force on December 3, 2020. It was never our intention to make disparaging remarks about you. I believe my December 17, 2020 text to you clarifies our intentions: 

“I’m reaching out to you because there were several individuals who were disturbed by some of your responses two weeks ago. I’m going to address trauma in my remarks today and I’m using some of their examples from that meeting in my comments. I thought it was proper to give you heads up.” 

You can find the stream of your December 3, 2020 conversation with the Task Force at https://www.facebook.com/SWGUnBoxed/videos/293149912082339 

3. “…I informed you that there was concern that the people on your committee do not fully represent the community…there are no Denver business owners and there is no neighborhood group representation…People handpicked by you are not a clear representation of the community, and therefore, the committee lacks a truly diverse perspective…the group you have convened is little more than a personal sounding board for political views and rhetoric.” 

Dr. Robert Davis did not choose the members of the Task Force. Members of the Task Force were chosen by community members who attended the town hall meetings in June and July, and through a community survey. Once convened, the Task Force had several meetings to discuss who was missing from the table. City Council members recommended several organizations (i.e. Pastor Jude Del Heirro was recommended by Mayor Hancock’s office; Councilwoman Torres recommended Denver Street Partnership, Councilman Hinds recommended organizations that serve citizens with disabilities, etc.). It was important to our team that we have fair and equitable representation on the Task Force, which is why there are over 40 organizations representing various ethnic groups, LGBTQ+ people, and community organizations providing a broad range of perspectives and services across many neighborhoods in the city. 

Unfortunately, you shared your recommendations to add RNOs and the Downtown Denver Partnership with me in a telephone call on December 3, 2020 after your meeting with the Task Force. I informed you that I do not have the authority to add organizations to the Task Force, and also shared the process of adding new members. I never heard back from you on this matter until I received your email last Wednesday. 

4. “Secondly, I asked you to recall an email to my colleagues in the Department of Public Safety in which you directed them to refrain from sharing their thoughts, comments, and experiences, limiting their role to answering questions.” 

Fortunately, this never happened. No such email exists. City officials and law enforcement were asked to serve as advisors and content experts for the Task Force, and have never been silenced at any meeting. In fact, in some meetings they were subject matter experts, or shared their experiences of being officers of color in a department that lacks meaningful racial and gender diversity. However, we have also asked City officials and law enforcement to be conscious of the impact of their comments, and to be intentional to let the community have a space to think and create solutions. 

5. “I will also note that there has been absolutely no progress for change recommendations from this group in the last 7 months.” 

The Task Force had our first meeting September 3, 2020. We are now in Phase 3 of the process, which is creating community-based solutions. As we shared with you in a few emails, our goal is to have the first round of recommendations by the end of March 2021. I am very proud that in four months the community has come together, established a framework for addressing the issues of policing and public safety, identified local and national best practices, and developed a comprehensive roadmap for how to create sustainable solutions. 

6. “…but I believe that if the City of Denver funds any portion of your effort it will be seen as a government-led initiative and we would be further accused of attempting to influence your outcomes. Therefore, we will not be able to fulfill your request for $50,000 to cover your administrative costs and professional service salary. This will assure that this truly remains a “community member” lead initiative.” 

I am proud of our almost completely volunteer team. Without any financial assistance from the City we have been able to hold a series of town hall meetings to hear from the community; organize over 40 community organizations, along with City Council, and the Department of Safety; recruit Vera Institute for Justice and Center for Policing Equity as collaboration partners; and are now weeks away from submitting the first round of recommendations. Just like the criminal justice system invests in arrest, incarceration and prosecution, it should invest in community-based solutions to correct the harms generated by the system of mass incarceration. However, given that these funds have been offered and withdrawn more than once based upon whether community perspectives align with those within the Department of Safety, I agree that accepting money from the Department of Safety may compromise the community-led autonomy that we have maintained thus far. Therefore, I respectfully withdraw any request for funding and we will solely continue to seek grant funds to power our work. 

In summary, in light of the nation-wide protest, and the OIM report of DPD’s controversial handling of the first few days of the protest in Denver, and considering that other municipalities around the nation are seeking to increase engagement with the community, I do not believe that this is the time to withdraw because it reinforces a pattern of police representatives “leaving the table” during difficult community conversations. 

For example, several people on the Task Force were also members of the Use of Force Advisory Committee when the police union representatives withdrew from the meetings because they did not agree with the process and objected to opposing community views. Despite those challenges, we put our differences aside and committed to the process for nearly two years, and produced a set of policy recommendations that were not only adopted but also lauded by Safety officials as a model for community-police collaboration.. 

The invitation is still open to those public safety officials willing to elevate and center the voices of the community, and who will listen with understanding and empathy while also sharing their expertise when appropriate. Regardless, we will continue to keep your office informed of our progress by sharing all relevant reports. All recommendations will be submitted to you, Chief Pazen, City Council, and Mayor Hancock. 

If you have any questions, concerns, or suggestions please let me know.

Blessings, 

Dr. Robert Davis 
Project Coordinator 
Task Force to Reimagine Policing and Public Safety