Denver, CO

Police task force quizzes public safety chief nominee

David Heitz

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The Reimagine Policing Task Force came into being after the George Floyd protests.Colin Lloyd/Unsplash

By David Heitz / NewsBreak Denver

(Denver, Colo.) The Denver Task Force to Reimagine Policing and Public Safety peppered Armando Saldate, the public safety director nominee, with questions Thursday during a Facebook live interview.

The mayor's nominee would oversee Denver's police department, which the task force has criticized. The group worked to make suggestions to make policing fairer. So far, the city has implemented few of their recommendations.

Through their leader, Dr. Robert Davis, the group asked Saldate several questions. First and foremost, group members want to know what Saldate brings to the table.

He told them he brings "stability." The past two years have been unpredictable and traumatic due to COVID and the public's response after a Minneapolis police officer murdered George Floyd by kneeling on his neck.

"As former law enforcement officer of color, (Floyd's death) hit me in ways I don't understand and still am grappling with," Saldate said.

The task force was formed after massive Denver protests following Floyd's death. Saldate said his priority is, "This right here. Us talking."

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Law enforcement officers guard the state capitol during the George Floyd protests in Denver.Colin Lloyd/Unsplash

The City Council has not yet approved Saldate for the executive director of public safety post. He currently serves as the assistant deputy director of the Department of Public Safety, which oversees the police, sheriff and fire departments.

Saldate driving force behind Street Enforcement Team

Saldate said he doesn't like talking about "alternative" police responses. He prefers calling them "better" police responses.

Some task force members balked at Saldate's nomination. Saldate founded the Street Enforcement Team, which gives police permission to ticket urban campers.

"We took time as community members to make recommendations and emphasized trauma-first training, and the approaches are just not being used," said task force member Melanie Kesner. "I hope your decisions are rooted in data and the expertise on this task force. My hope is that you can do more good than harm."

Kesner said programs that punish homeless people for existing, like the Street Enforcement Team, breed distrust between the homeless and those tasked with helping them.

Davis said it's better to bring people experiencing homelessness into decisions that affect them. "Bring them in on the front end so there is not a clash on the back end," he told Saldate. "Community groups sometimes are brought in after decisions already have been made. They are sort of brought in to rubber-stamp things."

'Retreating to corners' leads to information breakdown

Saldate said decisions get made in a vacuum when police reformists and law enforcement "retreat to our corners."

He asked Kesner to be mindful that many residents want enforcement against the encampments. Saldate's job is to keep people safe and listen to everyone, he said.

"I ask that you hear me, and you hear our perspective. I'm not going to be an apologist for police."

During a meeting last year between the task force and law enforcement, police leaders, including former Public Safety Executive Director Murphy Robinson, walked out.

"I'll demand that they listen to your perspective," Saldate said.

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I have been in the news business more than 30 years, spending much of my career at some of the best local newspapers in the country. Today, I report on Denver City Hall, homelessness and other topics for NewsBreak, much like I did in my twenties covering Newport Beach, Calif. for the Daily Pilot. I consider myself a lucky guy to still be doing what I love after so many years.

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