Troy Riggs, who as Denver’s public safety director put in place a data-driven approach that reformed the city’s police, sheriff and fire departments, is resigning to take a job in the private sector.
During his nearly two-year tenure, he played a large role in shaping public safety policies in Denver, overhauling the system for investigating misconduct at the sheriff’s department and guiding the selection of a new police chief. He also pushed to drive down overtime costs in the sheriff’s department and advocated for a unique approach to policing that saw officers deliver food from nonprofits to needy families.
Riggs also did away with booking fees in Denver’s jails and stopped charging fees for electronic monitoring of offenders, which had been costing offenders overall as much as $1 million annually.
He said he counts among his proudest achievements the Denver Opportunity Index, an intensive data-collection operation for all 142 census tracts in Denver. The index tracks such items as education levels, crime trends, social and health factors and household income. That project focuses on three pillars: financial security, behavioral health and those left behind.
“If we can enhance the quality of life as a city, we can make our city much safer,” he said in an hour-long interview discussing his resignation. “The greatest part is the index has changed the conversations about how we approach a lot of these issues and given us data to support those conversations.”
Assets and resources also have been mapped throughout the city, which allows police officers to guide citizens who might need help to mental health providers, substance use professionals and other experts. He said he recently learned that two police officers used that asset map to steer a suicidal resident to a mental health provider located just a block away.
“What I am leaving behind wasn’t here when I got here,” Riggs said. “It doesn’t have to be built. The issue now is working the plan that’s been developed.”
Riggs, former chief of the Indianapolis Police Department, came to Denver in the fall of 2017 to work as a deputy director of operations under then-safety director Stephanie O’Malley. Mayor Michael Hancock promoted Riggs to the top safety job in Denver after O’Malley resigned in February of 2018.
Riggs now is leaving that post to take a job as vice president of a private firm, which he declined to disclose .
During his tenure in Denver, Riggs, now 53, managed the police, sheriff, fire and 911 departments and other operations with nearly 4,400 employees and a $600 million annual budget.
He has pushed for the collection of data to find ways to save money and provide better service.
For instance, under his leadership, the city has studied how it handles emergency medical emergencies. It has typically required four fire personnel on a fire truck that costs the city well over $1 million. Under Riggs' guidance, the city is using vans that cost far less, about $25,000, and only need to be staffed by two firefighters to respond to medical emergencies in the downtown area that don't need ambulance transport to a hospital.
“It’s efficient and effective,” said Riggs, noting that the vans also are more fuel efficient than the massive fire trucks that only get 4 to 5 miles per gallon. He hopes the city will spread the use of the vans to other areas of the city.
The Denver sheriff’s office had been mired in controversy following expensive litigation over use-of-force controversies. Riggs pushed for the creation of the Public Integrity Division within the safety department to investigate alleged misconduct in the sheriff’s department and hired David Walcher, the former Arapahoe County sheriff, to run it.
Riggs said it used to take an average of 230 days to investigate alleged wrongdoing by sheriff’s deputies. Now, under the newly created division, it takes less than 200 days for such cases to be closed, and efforts are underway to quicken that pace, he said.
Riggs oversaw the selection of a new police chief after Robert White resigned as chief. The mayor ended up choosing Riggs’ favored candidate for chief, Paul Pazen, who had been the commander of District 1 in northwest Denver.
Riggs is leaving at a time when Hancock still is deciding how to fill the vacancy created when Sheriff Patrick Firman resigned.
Riggs had a rocky introduction when he first took the safety director post in Denver. Not long after he took the job, news broke that Mayor Hancock had sent suggestive text messages years ago to a female member of his security detail. Riggs said he gives the mayor high marks for not dodging the controversy and for also talking frankly about the issue in private meetings and accepting responsibility.
“He’s an honest man,” Riggs said of Hancock. “His yes means yes, and his no means no.”
As Riggs departs, newly elected city council members are pushing for more drastic changes. Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca is pushing to change the city charter to make the Denver sheriff an elected seat, rather than one appointed by the mayor.
Riggs said he decided against applying for other public sector jobs while in Denver, turning down opportunities to apply to become the police chief or safety director in Chicago. He also declined other offers in the private sector and had planned to stay as Denver public safety director for a longer stint.
Then, he said, the call came for a private sector position that he believed was just too good to turn down. He said he will continue to offer support to the mayor once he leaves his position and will continue to be a resource city officials can call. He also will give a series of speeches on faith-based issues on behalf of Stark College & Seminary in Corpus Christi, Texas, a city where he was a former police chief.