Here’s what the two finalists to lead Denver’s law enforcement watchdog office say they want to focus on

The candidates met virtually with the public twice this week.
4 min. read
A Denver Police cruiser is parked at Argonaut Wine and Liquor on East Colfax Avenue. Sept. 30, 2021.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Transparency and building trust are among the top concerns for the two finalists named for Denver's vacant Independent Monitor position.

The candidates met twice this week with community members at forums hosted by the Denver Citizen Oversight board as it looks to make a hire for the city's top law enforcement watchdog.

The person hired will lead the Civilian Oversight Agency for the Denver Police Department and Denver County Sheriff's Department.

The two finalists are Lisabeth Pérez Castle of Colorado and Mary Opler of California.

Pérez Castle is originally from the South Bronx. But the daughter of Cuban immigrants has an extensive law career in Colorado. Castle spent 12 years with the Colorado State Public Defender's Office. She established her private defense practice in Denver in 2000.

If hired, she said she would  push for more collaboration between law enforcement and the marginalized communities.

"Look at what's been happening in this country. It's Blacks. It's Hispanics. It's LGBTQ [people]. It's people of the Jewish faith. And in order for law enforcement to hear the concerns of those communities, they have to reach out to those communities and have discussions with them," Pérez Castle said. "We're different in faith, we're different in color, we're different in background. And that is all part of how law enforcement views us and how they need to learn about the community in order to best support them."

Opler currently works in civilian oversight at the Sacramento Office of Public Safety, Accountability. She's a former prosecutor for the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office in Washington State. She also worked as a police officer in San Francisco.

Mary Opler of Sacramento, CA (left), and Lisabeth Pérez Castle of Denver.
Denver Citizen Oversight Board

Opler hopes to bring more transparency to the position.

"So, not only having the work being done behind the scenes, but changing policies and procedures so we can release more reports so that we can give bigger opinions so that we can let the public in on the inner workings of the office," Opler said. "Yes, there's confidentiality issues, and yes, there's procedures that need to be hammered out, but all those are doable, and I think it's perfectly legal to do so."

Members of the public questioned the finalists about how they would discipline officers for violating policies.

Both candidates called for changes in the current discipline matrix used by the Denver Police and Denver County Sheriff's Department.

Opler said she's a firm believer in the discipline matrix and hopes to improve the city's model through negotiations and collective bargaining agreement..

"Going through the process of making a matrix and releasing it to the public, I think would be incredibly beneficial," Opler said. "So for me, I think this ties into my great reviews for the office of having not only a short term plan, but a medium, and a long term plan. What do we want oversight to look like in 10 years? And what can we do now to make that a possibility?"

Pérez Castle felt that the Independent Monitor's recommendations on disciplinary actions should be released to the public.

"The monitor cannot come out and say, this is what we're recommending and this is why we're recommending it. That is determined to be confidential. That's why you don't see that in the Office of Independent Monitor reports," Castle said. "the monitor at this point can state whether or not they feel that the discipline was appropriate for the circumstances. And I think it's important for the community to hear what the Monitor is doing and what their position is."

The position has been vacant for almost two years.

Denver's last independent monitor Nick Mitchell stepped down in January 2021 after the Department of Justice appointed him to overhaul the Los Angeles County jail system.

Gregg Crittenden was appointed interim independent monitor and has been in that position during the search.

Three finalists were named earlier this year. But, none were hired.

Despite the search taking longer than expected, Task Force Career Reimagine and Public Safety project coordinator Robert Davis praises the Citizens Oversight Board and Crittenden's leadership throughout the process.

"His (Crittenden)  leadership and the staff of that office has done such a phenomenal job. It is given breathing room for the COB and for the community to do a thorough search process. Davis said. "The city of Denver is looking for a very specific individual personality-wise, community engagement-wise, and skill set-wise for this office. And, I appreciate that we've taken the time to actually think it through and find the right person."

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