16 August 2010

Hickenlooper's Half Measure

On April 4, 2009, Denver Police Officer Devin Sparks attacked a man talking on a phone (to a law enforcement officer, no less), and then lied about what it did and why he did it in a police report. His partner, Corporal Randy Murr, also lied in his police report to cover up his partner's wrongdoing. Videotape makes the police officers' lies impossible to overlook.

Manager of Public Safety Ron Perea responded to the police brutality and falsified police reports prepared by Devin Sparks and Randy Murr with a slap on the wrist: three day suspended without pay. Independent Monitor Richard Rosenthal cried foul and called for the police officers to be fired.

Mayor Hickenlooper didn't have the guts to acknowledge that the police officers in question engaged in police brutality and lied in their police reports, despite the clear videotaped evidence to the contrary, and that his Manager of Public Safety inappropriately tolerated this gross misconduct.

But, the power of the press has been enough for him to try to triangulate by calling in the FBI to investigate the incident, so that he has some hope of appeasing the public who can see the truth with an investigation from an agency that may be more honest in the face of undeniable facts than Ron Perea, without incurring the symbolic cost of disagreeing with the police even when it is clear that they are lying and covering up for each other.

The truth is simple. Cops who engage in unjustified police brutality or lie in police reports need to lose their jobs and their careers. Ron Perea doesn't deserve to be the Manager of Public Safety in Denver. He was tested, and has shown that he doesn't have the moral character needed to lead Denver's police force. He needs to step down.

Somebody needs to make clear that corruption will not be tolerated in Denver's police force, that police officers who lie can't do their job of being trusted to testify truthfully in court, and that tolerating brutality and corruption hurts public safety by undermining public trust in the police. Somebody needs to recognize that the buck stops with him, and that somebody is ultimately Mayor Hickenlooper.

Perhaps that somebody will instead be an FBI officer. The Denver police force has once again shown that it is incapable of disciplining its own appropriately, despite millions of dollars it has been forced to pay in legal settlements of civil rights suits as a result.

Mayor Hickenlooper has taken a half-measure to acknowledge that this time Denver police officers were caught red handed. But, if he really wants to show the moral leadership that we need in the man who seems sure to be our next Governor, he needs to take his responsibility to lead seriously. Showing backbone in a case like this one will show the public and those who work for him in the city and in time in the state government, that the law has to be taken seriously by the people charged with carrying it out.

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