As she suggested a couple of weeks ago, Denver City Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca will propose a charter change that makes the Denver sheriff an elected seat, rather than one appointed by the mayor, her chief of staff confirmed Thursday.
The sheriff, which oversees the city’s jail system, would become an independent office that would no longer report to the mayor, according to draft language of the charter change. Right now the office is part of the Department of Safety and reports directly to Mayor Michael Hancock.
“What we’re trying to do is basically create an independent agency because right now they have no autonomy,” said Lisa Calderón, CdeBaca’s chief of staff. “Everything goes through the safety office. It’s an added level of bureaucracy.”
CdeBaca’s proposal comes after Sheriff Patrick Firman announced he will resign in October after four years. His stint at the helm included managing a 2016 policy meant to curb the use of force in the jail system after Michael Marshall died in custody. Recent criticism includes Firman’s oversight of a woman who gave birth alone in a jail cell last year and a lawsuit that resulted. Earlier this month, the Denver City Council approved a $1.5 million settlement with female deputies who alleged the department failed to protect them from sexual harassment at the county jail.
The new sherrif’s office would resemble the structure of the Office of the Clerk and Recorder, which became an independent, elected position after a disastrous 2006 election. Long lines and disorganization prompted the City Council to start the ball rolling on that initiative, much like CdeBaca hopes to do.
If she succeeds, the question would go to voters on the November 2020 ballot.
Executive Director of Public Safety Troy Riggs said there’s “a lot of potential issues” with an elected sheriff during a press conference earlier this month. Skeptics have pointed to the potential politicization of the post, invoking the name of Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona, who took a hard line against undocumented immigrants (and was later convicted of criminal contempt).
“Sure, we’ve talked about it and that’s a concern for any political office,” Calderón said. “Why elect any elected official if that were the argument? And Denver County is not Maricopa County.”
A City Council committee will hear CdeBaca’s proposal Monday at 3 p.m.