Occupy Denver: Independent monitor criticizes police, Department of Safety over protest tactics

City officials argued that Occupy Denver, which attempted to camp in public, was a huge public safety nuisance for the city -- playing a role in the controversial ordinance against camping that passed last spring.

Occupy Denver slideshow image, 3.jpeg
Photo by Kelsey Whipple
Occupy Denver: Large police presence moves in on three tents with pepper spray and arrests.
During Occupy Denver's most active months, Mitchell notes in his report, the DPD conducted regular debriefings about the protests -- but, he argues, the events of October 29 were serious enough that they merited a "more detailed examination of the tactics used to determine whether different methods could prevent similar confrontations in the future."

That's why he recommended a comprehensive tactics review, which he argues could help improve the responses to similar tense situations going forward.

DPD has a so-called "Tactics Review Board" that can assess these kinds of incidents and meets on a bi-monthly basis if cases require it. That board is charged with reviewing tactics to determine "compliance with existing policy and procedure...[and] the need for revisions to policy, procedure or training."

The events last year would have been a good opportunity for reflection on crowd control tactics, the report notes, citing the timing of DPD's engagement with demonstrators shortly after a rally, the use of riot gear when seeking voluntary compliance with police requests, the small number of officers used and the role of less-than-lethal force.

Occupy Denver riot squad photo, Whipple.jpeg
Photo by Kelsey Whipple
Occupy Denver: Biggest riot squad presence to date, pepper bullets, multiple arrests.
Mitchell says he was disappointed that the Department of Safety declined to accept his recommendation to employ the tactics board to do a review in this case.

Reached by phone, Mitchell told us he has nothing more to add beyond what's in the report.

Alex Martinez, the manager of safety, however, has quite a bit to say about the criticisms. As the head of the Department of Safety, which oversees police, sheriff and other public safety agencies, Martinez has said he is pushing serious reforms to increase transparency and improve the public's trust in Denver law enforcement. A lot of this discussion is in the context of police brutality.

Martinez writes to us that a tactical review a year after the fact is unnecessary and argues that Denver is "one of the most successful cities in the country in striking a balance between supporting the protestors in exercising their First Amendment rights while protecting the health, safety and welfare of all of our citizens."

But, he says, his department remains open to Tactics Review Board analysis in appropriate cases going forward.

Continue for the full statement from Martinez and the full report from the independent monitor.

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