The Office of the Independent Monitor has been a vital watchdog overseeing investigations into Denver’s law enforcement departments since 2004. Yet the department has been without a permanent leader for six months, during which time police officers have been involved in at least five fatal shootings.
The OIM has been instrumental in everything from guiding internal law enforcement investigations to reforming the police’s use-of-force policy. The office wrote a scathing report about the police response to George Floyd protests last summer, revealing how some Denver Police Department officers misused non-lethal weapons against peaceful protesters, failed to file use-of-force reports and often didn’t turn on body cameras.
Nick Mitchell, a lawyer with years of oversight experience, led the department from 2012 until early 2021, when he left for a job overseeing L.A. County’s jails.
“Nick grew the office to a point of significance, both for the work that the office does, but also for the level of trust that community has in it,” Jamie Torres, a Denver city councilmember who also sits on the OIM applicant-screening committee, said. “It’s definitely not like the last time we were looking for a monitor, when it was still a very new entity.”
Al Gardner, a member of the Citizen Oversight Board, which itself oversees the OIM, is also on the applicant-screening committee. “The last time this was done was when Nick was hired, so it was time to revisit all the processes,” Gardner said. “The focus with me, I know for sure, is to get the process ‘right’ versus ‘quick.'”
Mitchell’s former deputy, Gregg Crittenden, was tapped to take over as interim director in January, although the job posting didn’t appear until about a month ago.
According to Gardner, the city attorney will have the contract for the position finalized in the coming weeks. Then the hiring committee will be able to review candidates, including those who have already applied.
In late May, a year after last summer’s protests sparked a worldwide discussion about policing, a citizen-led task force released more than 100 recommendations for how public safety in Denver should be transformed. The task force suggested cutting the mayor out of the appointment process; former OIM Director Mitchell previously told Denverite that having the mayor appoint an “independent” monitor isn’t quite in line with independence.
One of the task force’s leaders, Robert Davis, had other issues with the hiring process to replace Mitchell. “This has been a very opaque process,” he said. “I have no idea why the process has been so secretive.” According to Davis, the only member of the applicant-screening committee who had communicated with him was Councilmember Torres.
Gardner says the applicants so far are diverse. “We’re getting folks that have a background in oversight, we’re getting people who don’t,” he said. “We’re getting folks who have experience in law enforcement, and we’re getting folks who have background in community organizing.”
Meanwhile, after months of relative quiet, shootings spiked in May and June, five of which resulted in fatalities. Twenty-two cops involved in the shootings are currently on modified duty, meaning they perform more administrative tasks instead of going on patrol. That’s 1.4 percent of the entire department.
The OIM is still investigating police incidents like these. Councilmember Torres said she had personally followed up with the interim director about a shooting in her district. “Just to make sure, from Gregg, that they’re actively monitoring it,” she explained.
The five-person committee in charge of selecting three candidates for Mayor Hancock and City Council approval includes Torres, Gardner, a former Denver County judge as well as a law enforcement oversight expert from Cambridge. The city also recently hired Affion Executive Search, which scouts executives for the public sector, to help fill the role.
The Citizen Oversight Board, which meets on the first and third of Friday of each month, will give the public updates on the process moving forward.