Police, demonstrators clash again in Denver after curfew

Police officers fire tear gas outside the State Capitol in Denver, Saturday, May 30, 2020, during a protest over the death of George Floyd who died in Minneapolis police custody on May 25.

The Denver Police Department has banned all chokeholds, will require body cameras for SWAT officers during tactical operations, and require a use-of-force report when an officer points a firearm at someone. 

Denver police Chief Paul Pazen informed his Use of Force Committee of the policy changes on Sunday afternoon, according to an email obtained by Colorado Politics. The revised use-of-force policies went into effect Monday, he said.

"We will continue to evaluate our policies with community input and make improvements as needed in the interest of public and officer safety," Pazen said in the statement.

Mayor Michael Hancock and the chief had been discussing Friday and Saturday "immediate actions that could be taken on use of force changes," spokesman Mike Strott told Colorado Politics in an email. "Mayor Hancock is very supportive of these changes and approved of them when Chief Pazen brought them to him."

Public safety director Murphy Robinson "has been in regular communication with Chief Pazen and supports these changes," Department of Public Safety spokesperson Kelli Christensen said in a statement. "All policy changes by any safety agency must be approved by Director Robinson."

Following the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who died in the custody of white Minneapolis police officers on May 25, protests erupted three days later in Denver and have continued every day and night since. 

The first four nights of protests resulted in clashes between police and demonstrators, as law enforcement responded by firing tear gas and foam projectiles at some people throwing fireworks, rocks and water bottles. 

The clashes spurred action at the state Capitol, with the introduction of a sweeping police reform bill, SB 217, that is making its way through the legislature. The 16-page bill would implement a reporting system in which officers who used excessive force would be tracked if moving to another department, and officers also would only be able to use deadly force only if in imminent danger. 

RELATED: Here's how Senate Bill 217 would change how law enforcement officers do their job

Additionally, the legislation would ban choke holds, require that all officers wear body cameras, and require an annual report be created for every agency's use of force. 

On Friday night, a federal judge partially granted a request for a temporary restraining order on DPD's use of less-lethal weapons against demonstrators. The order bans officers from using any chemical weapons against peaceful protesters unless ordered otherwise by a supervisor "in response to specific acts of violence or destruction of property that the command officer has personally witnessed." 

Earlier this week, the police department fired one of its officers for posting “Let’s start a riot” on social media, as well as acknowledged that the agency needs to be held accountable and internal policies need to be reexamined.

Mayor Michael Hancock and police Chief Paul Pazen both marched with protesters this week, and the chief also held a one-hour virtual “listening session” with community members Wednesday.

“Just like I have to hold officers accountable, I have to be accountable as well,” Pazen said Wednesday, adding that the department must take “a hard look and critical review” of officers’ actions amid protests, a process that will be overseen by the Office of the Independent Monitor.

Denver City Councilman Paul Kashmann, who chairs the council's safety committee, has asked safety leadership to come before the council in the coming weeks to "discuss the use of force in crowd-control situations.

"Reports of excessive use of force and targeting of journalists in recent days are concerning and must be investigated," he said. 

He told Colorado Politics on Sunday evening that safety department leadership will meet with council's safety committee on June 17. 

Kashmann also said that it's a "great sign" that Pazen is taking "opportunities to make important changes toward humane policing. 

"Our nation is at the beginning of a deep-dive discussion to review the role that law enforcement plays in our communities," he added. "While these considerations may seem radical to some, the fact that improved training and policy tweaks have done little to bridge the racial divide in how the law approaches people of color, it seems to be a good time to look to see if other paradigms of law enforcement are worth considering."

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