Denver City Council member Kevin Flynn on Thursday called Police Chief Ron Thomas’s goals for getting the department up to full force “wildly optimistic.”
During the City Council budget hearing for the police department, Thomas explained he wants to spend more than $8.2 million on three classes of police recruits. He estimated bringing 167 recruits in the door in 2024 and having just 90 officers leave.
But Flynn said that’s unrealistic, pointing out that previous classes of police recruits only had 52% to 58% graduate. Thomas blamed previous dropout rates on the pandemic and the George Floyd protests.
Flynn read Thomas a study that shows how many police offers per thousand people exist in major American cities. Behind D.C, Chicago, Boston, Detroit, Atlanta, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Houston, Denver ranks at 2.1 officers per thousand people. Flynn asked Thomas whether those numbers sounded accurate.
Thomas said yes, they sound accurate. He said it is more important to measure a police department’s might via complicated workload formulas.
Parady said the numbers don’t add up. Kashmann told the chief, “I’m not good at math either.’”
Concerns about traffic crimes
Flynn and council member Amanda Sawyer both said the most requests they get from their constituents relate to calming traffic. They want more photo enforcement and more police assigned to traffic duty. A few years ago, the traffic division sustained budget cuts, they said.
Council member Flor Alvidrez wanted to know as the mother of an autistic son how police are trained for challenging situations where a person may not understand, “Hands up.” Thomas said all officers go through crisis intervention training, with the goal of completing it their first year.
Man patrolling on Vespa with zip ties
Alvidrez said she is concerned about vigilantism. She said there is a man in her district “riding around with zip ties on a Vespa.” Alvidrez said her district hosts an immigrant shelter. She said the police have been patient. “At the end of the day, I don’t think police want to put people in jail for the sake of putting people in jail."
Alvidrez also asked Thomas what he is doing to support the mental health of his officers. Thomas said he stood up the first wellness program in the department for self-reporting substance abuse or mental health problems. He said it’s important because you can “sit at the front desk six months to a year” after a difficult incident but that “does nothing to address their mental health trauma.”
Gilmore describes crime at apartment community
Council member Stacie Gilmore described problems with crime at an apartment community in Green Valley ranch called East Range Crossings. She said she believes other city departments that worked on the low-income housing project such as the Department of Housing Stability and Community Planning and Development should have required the developer to provide certain basic amenities. That would have included ample lighting of the property, no trespassing signs where needed, and proper ingress and egress of parking areas.
Council member Darrell Watson gave Thomas an opportunity to tell the story of how he rose through the Denver Police Department ranks. He asked why he should remain police chief. Watson said he “best understands what the community needs are” and has proven effective at managing the agency. “My track record speaks for itself.”
Thomas became chief a year ago and has instituted a public health approach to policing. Violent crime, especially car thefts, are down. He said he has reduced response times and increased public trust.
Are criminals emboldened?
Council member Chris Hinds asked Thomas if it appears people seem emboldened to break the law. “I do believe there is a sense of (embolden behavior), not that they don’t think they’ll be held accountable, but because of a lack of impulse control fueled by our drug epidemic,” Thomas answered. “People are not in their right minds, and this is why crimes occur in the presence of officers.”