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Denver Independent Monitor Nicholas Mitchell speaks to Denver City Council members during budget hearings on Sept. 24. 

Denver’s Office of the Independent Monitor, a watchdog agency over the police and sheriff departments, is in the final stages of its investigation into the Denver Police Department’s responses to the George Floyd demonstrations.

The investigation was taken on after Denver City Council members sent a letter in June urging the oversight agency to examine DPD’s use of tear gas, less-than-lethal bullets and other unwarranted force against peaceful demonstrators and the media during protests sparked by the death of Floyd, a Black man who died in custody of white Minneapolis police officers.

“We’re now in the process of comparing our findings and conclusions, digesting what all this information means, and how it all sort of hangs together,” Independent Monitor Nicholas Mitchell told Denver City Council members during budget hearings Thursday.

“It’s a lessons learned review,” he explained. “We are looking at use-of-force issues, among others, but it is focused on bigger-picture policy and procedure and practice issues.”

Specific acts of misconduct are investigated within the police department through DPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau, investigations Mitchell said are still ongoing.

Mitchell’s staff has spent the last several months pouring over “hundreds and hundreds and hundreds” of hours of police body-worn camera, street security camera footage, helicopter videos, cell phone footage, audio records, officer statements, crowd dispersal orders, training of officers involved, less-lethal equipment dispersed and more.

The OIM also sought information from Denver Health and the Denver fire and sheriff departments, as well as documentation from outside jurisdictions, to understand their involvement during demonstrations.

To get the work done, Mitchell’s nimble team of five deputy monitors spent weekends and nights reviewing the information, putting them under “tremendous strain” and resulting in “less active monitoring” of investigations that have cropped up since the racial justice protests.

During budget hearings, several council members expressed their desire to strengthen the manpower behind the oversight agency, which currently staffs 15.5 full-time employees and plans to maintain those staffing levels in 2021.

The agency’s proposed budget of nearly $1.9 million next year reflects a slight decrease compared to what was allocated in 2020, but no changes to the office’s operational or personnel budget will be made.

The OIM was also spared from deep budget cuts mandated this year and next across most city agencies due to the pandemic-induced recession.

Preserving the agency’s funds was a “deliberate” decision, “recognizing some of the pressures” the office is feeling, said city budget director Stephanie Karayannis Adams.

Adams said the OIM has been a “full participant” in the budget process, and that no budget expansions were proposed for OIM next year, which is partly why none were granted.

Council members Candi CdeBaca, Stacie Gilmore, Chris Hinds, Robin Kniech and Jamie Torres all expressed support for expanding the personnel budget for the OIM.

Several council members also supported the budget request from the Citizens Oversight Board, which oversees the OIM, and is asking for funding for one full-time employee.

The deadline for City Council members to submit changes to the proposed budget is on or before Oct. 6. The budget must be finalized and approved by City Council by Nov. 9.

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