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The Denver City Hall building is pictured on Oct. 3,2020. (Forrest Czarnecki/The Denver Gazette)

Denver’s Citizen Oversight Board hopes to hire someone to head the agency responsible for policing the city's police by April, officials said this week.  

The top position at the Office of the Independent Monitor has been open since January, when former monitor Nick Mitchell stepped down to oversee a consent decree in Los Angeles.

Voters in last week’s municipal election gave the citizen-led oversight board the power to appoint an independent monitor, a privilege that previously rested with the mayor.

Board chairwoman Julia Richman said at the group’s quarterly public forum on Tuesday the board has decided to extend the application window until Nov. 19 in case anyone hesitated to apply because of the political nature of the position as a mayoral appointment. She said about 40 candidates have applied, which she added is a high number given the specialized nature of the monitor's job.

The Office of the Independent Monitor monitors investigations of Denver’s safety officers, including shootings, in-custody deaths and probes that turn into criminal investigations, and makes recommendations about discipline and policy to the manager of safety. The agency also monitors investigations of citizen complaints about misconduct such as improper use of force, discrimination and retaliation.

The office did a special investigation in summer and fall 2020 into Denver police’s handling of last year’s racial justice protests, finding the department misused less-lethal force tactics and at times acted anonymously without body-worn cameras.

A screening committee headed by the oversight board chair convened in March to oversee the search for a monitor and name finalists. The committee hired Affion Public, a search firm that specializes in placement for executive positions in public agencies, but the committee’s process so far has drawn criticism for what critics say is too slow a pace and lack of public transparency about where the search stands.

Once the application window closes, Richman said, the firm and search committee will screen candidates until about January, and interviews will start. She said community members will have opportunities to talk with named finalists, which is expected to happen through February. The oversight board and search committee will receive feedback and hope to choose a monitor by March or April.

“What we will also commit to as a board is providing ongoing updates on how the process is proceeding,” Richman said.

Deputy safety director Mary Dulacki also gave an update at Tuesday’s oversight board forum on the internal investigations opened into Denver police officers as a result of last year’s protests. She said of the more than 120 cases, none resulted in criminal charges.

Twenty-eight were declined because the department couldn’t identify the officers involved with certainty, 24 involved complainants who stopped communicating with investigators, 20 were declined because the investigation found no misconduct and six involved officers who worked for law enforcement agencies outside Denver.

“I don’t want to make it seem like I’m defending what seems like a lot of cases that didn’t come out as a sustained case, but when you have that breakdown that I gave you, I think you can understand what the difficulties were in actually identifying some of these individuals that may have had existing violations,” Dulacki said.

Oversight board member Katina Banks expressed concern about the complaints about officers from other agencies, saying it would be frustrating to her if the city declined to take responsibility if she were injured in Denver by an officer who turned out to be from a different agency.

Dulacki said those cases were referred back to the officers’ agencies, and added the city has stipulated it won’t receive mutual aid from other agencies unless they agree to follow Denver’s use of force policies, including not bringing in weapons Denver’s policies don’t authorize.

“I think as a citizen of Denver, if I was seriously injured or I felt as though there was use of force that was inappropriate and I was just told, ‘Sorry, that wasn’t our officer, we can’t do anything about it,’ that would be cold comfort,” Banks said.

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