Denver Police Chief Robert White will retire, city to begin search for a new chief

The mayor’s office says the search for Denver’s next police chief is underway.
7 min. read
Denver Police Department’s Chief Robert White at Mayor Michael Hancock’s Cabinet in the Community event. Nov. 19, 2016. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Denver Police Department's Chief Robert White at Mayor Michael Hancock's Cabinet in the Community event. Nov. 19, 2016. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Denver Police Chief Robert White is planning to retire after more than six years as the city's top cop.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock's office made the announcement Tuesday afternoon in a release, saying White will depart from his role once the next chief is appointed — but no departure date is specified.

The release said the search for the city's next police chief is underway.

"It has been my honor to serve the people of this great city and this department of truly exceptional officers and staff," White said in the release. "And I want to thank Mayor Hancock for allowing me the opportunity to strengthen the department and its bonds to the community. It has been an incredibly challenging and rewarding six plus years that I will forever be grateful for and proud of."

The Denver Post reported White told the Citizens Oversight Board on Friday that he had given Mayor Michael Hancock a date for his retirement, but he isn't making the date public yet.

"On behalf of everyone in Denver, I want to thank Chief White for his dedication to our city and his distinguished service over these past six years,” Hancock said in the release. “Through his great work, he has firmly established a legacy of building strong community relationships and a police department better equipped and prepared to keep our neighborhoods and residents safe, and I wish the Chief all the best in his much-deserved retirement."

White told the board during the public hearing last week that he plans on seeing two current projects through before leaving, according to the Post. Those two projects include the rewriting of the department's use-of-force policy and a plan to gather more information on people stopped on streets and sidewalks.

White posted a lengthier goodbye letter on the department's Facebook page.

"Success in implementing changes and progressing forward requires a team effort, and the Denver Police Department team rose to the challenge and delivered," White wrote in the letter. "I am confident that this Department will continue to thrive because the agency is loaded talented officers, civilian employees and leaders dedicated to serving and protecting this great city."

White was sworn in as chief on Dec. 12, 2011, becoming the Denver Police Department's 69th Chief of Police. White served nearly nine years as the first chief of the Louisville Metro Police Department in Kentucky. He has been an officer since May 1972, when he began working as an officer for the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington and eventually rising to the rank of Assistant Chief. He also previously worked as Chief of Police for the Greensboro (North Carolina) Police Department.

Last year, the department started collecting more information on pedestrians stops as part of a recommendation made by Denver Auditor Tim O'Brien. While White initially refused, he agreed to the information gathering in August.

White introduced a draft of the department's new use-of-force policy in January 2017 while saying citizens had raised the bar on what to expect from their police department. The plan included new policies like ethics training and encouraging cops to slow down and think critically. Denver Police spokesperson Sonny Jackson said a new set of policies is "very close to being completed," and will be done before White retires.

White's announcement comes after Hancock said he wouldn't discipline the chief following two investigations.

Earlier this month, Hancock announced he wouldn't be disciplining White following two reviews related to a car chase and his handling of a public records requests involving a sexual assault allegation made against one of his officers.

Despite being exonerated by Hancock, the investigation on White marred what we now know to be White's final months with the department.

The public records investigation includes Deputy Chief Matt Murray, who is still being investigated for his involvement. Depending on the investigation's outcome, the review likely cost him a shot to at being considered for the chief's office.

White's relationship with his officers was strained. It was made evident last year when the Denver Police officer's union, Denver Police Protective Association, passed a "no-confidence" vote on White in October.

Things only seemed to get worst from there.

In February, union president Det. Nick Rogers took the added step of calling out the city during a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee meeting on the country's opioid epidemic. Rogers said his fellow officer's were unhappy with the sanctuary city policies in Denver, which forbids employees to ask about people's immigration status and to share info with federal government.

The comments drew a response from Murray, who said Rogers didn't represent  the city or the police department.

Rogers said Tuesday he wishes White the best in his retirement and that he's looking, "forward, not back." While he didn't specify any officers, Rogers said there are lots of "qualified people" within the department who could possibly take up the chief's role.

"I'm hoping that our new chief of police has a tremendous amount of honor, integrity and respect from his or her officers," Rogers said.

So what happens now?

A search committee that will identify potential candidates will be created with people selected by Hancock.

The search process will include at least four community forums and an email account will be set up to receive community feedback. Candidates will be advanced to Hancock and Executive Director of Safety Troy Riggs. Ultimately, the new chief's appointment will be up to Hancock.

White is credited with improving Denver Police's policies and expanding the department's outreach.

The release from Hancock's office lists highlights from White's time in Denver.

Among these: He is credited with helping reorganize the department to improve its overall efficiency, increasing safety in the city's downtown area, introducing dedicated officers to walking beats at the 16th Street Mall during the summer months, modernizing officer training, improving relationships between residents and cops by encouraging open dialogue at events and forums, establishing an officer liaison with the LGBTQ community, and implementing the department's use of body cameras for its officers.

The release also included comments from city officials and community leaders commending White's work.

“Nationally recognized as a leader on matters of public safety, Chief White has been an asset to Denver and our neighbors. His retirement, while well-earned, will leave a void in our community,” City Council President Albus Brooks said in a release.

Reverend Leon Kelly, executive director at Open Door Youth Gang Alternatives, said in the release the past six years under White have been some of the most "encouraging" in addressing gang violence and youth issues in Denver.

"Chief White has been very supportive of many of the community efforts for reform, inside and outside the Denver Police Department," Kelly said in the release. "His willingness to work to level the playing field has impressed me; he is definitely at the top of my list of innovators for police change. Most importantly, while I commend what he’s been able to do as the police chief, I have also been privileged to know him as a husband and a father. His ability to balance work, home, and spiritual life is an inspiration."

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