A rosary is draped over a portrait of 17-year-old Jessica Hernandez in her Thornton, Colo., home on Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015. The teenager was killed after she allegedly hit and injured a Denver Police Department officer while driving a stolen vehicle in northeast Denver alleyway. Community groups like the Colorado Latino Forum are concerned about being excluded from the creation of the Denver Police department's new use of force policy. 

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

When Denver Police released a draft of a new use of force policy in December, there was immediate criticism locally. Some said the 10-page document included vague and ambiguous language, while others wondered why they weren't consulted before the new policy was crafted and released.

Tuesday on Colorado Matters, Denver Police Chief Robert White responded to some these concerns, and on Wednesday, host Nathan Heffel spoke with Lisa Calderon of the Colorado Latino Forum, one of the community groups unhappy with the policy.

Calderon On Chief White characterizing her as part of a "small contingent":

"If he means mothers whose children have been brutalized by Denver Police, that's me. If he means people with critical voices at the table, yes, that's me. You know I think dismissing those of us who have ongoing concerns really says that you don't want to hear from all of the segments of society who can weigh in. So that's the first thing. The other is that the Independent Monitor was excluded and the Independent Monitor's office was created as a result of the shooting of Paul Childs. Paul Childs, a fifteen-year-old mentally disabled black boy. And so these changes that are being made in the use of force policy are really paid for by the blood of community members. So bringing us in after the fact and saying that he's gone to all of these meetings over multiple years, just doesn't ring true in terms of an inclusive community process."

On Denver catching up to best practices around the country:

"I think it's great that the policy finally prohibits shooting into moving vehicles, but other jurisdictions have had that for a while now, including New York. Other policies, or other jurisdictions have had policies that have been restrictive on when to use force. They have been clearer on defining what reasonable or necessary means. They've been clearer on the amount of force that have been used. So all of these are pretty vague in Denver's policy."

On whether any parts of the policy are acceptable:

"Well I think it is a start of a model policy. We are certainly not there and in order to get to that model policy, you need a variety of voices. So for example with the Denver Sheriff's Department we had not only deputies represented but also City attorneys and community members and mental health folks. So the fact that Denver chose to have this kind of secret process and then claim that emailing comments is the same as a robust community process says to me that they really aren't genuinely  interested in what we have to say."

Transcript

Nathan Heffel: This is Colorado Matters from CPR News. I'm Nathan Heffel. When Denver Police released a draft last month of a new use of force policy there was immediate criticism. Some said the ten-page document included vague and ambiguous language. Others wondered why they weren't consulted before the new policy was crafted and released. Yesterday on Colorado Matters, Denver Police Chief Robert White responded to some of those concerns. Today we hear reaction from Lisa Calderon of the Colorado Latino Forum, one of the community groups unhappy with the policy. Lisa, thanks for joining us. 

Lisa Calderon: Thanks for having me.

NH: Before I begin, we'd like to say that we invited Denver Independent Monitor, Nicholas Mitchell to join us today but he declined. We also reached out to the Police Union but our telephone calls were not returned in time for today's show. Both were mentioned by Chief White in yesterday's interview.  What are your objections to the content in this policy, Lisa Calderon?

LC: Well regarding content I think that there's a lot of room for improvement. So one of it, concerns, is the term "reasonable and necessary". The previous policy used the term "necessary and reasonable". So basically they switched around the terms. 

NH: And that's a big deal because?

LC: Exactly. I mean how was the policy changed if you simply just switch the words around. Also, how do you define reasonable and necessary. So within the policy, it's a circular logic because reasonable and necessary is used to define reasonable and necessary. 

NH: So essentially you're saying there really was not a change by switching these two words.

LC: That's right. 

NH: When the new use of force policy was released, there were no community meetings. There have been three community forums added after the department's release of the use of force draft. Two of them have since been held. Chief White says this policy is still a draft and information, ideas from the forums could be incorporated. Why do you have a problem with that?

LC: It's an afterthought and this policy impacts anyone who comes in contact with a police officer where use of force could occur. So if this policy is impacting Denver residents but we didn't have a meaningful opportunity to give input as to how this would affect us, then it lacks community legitimacy. 

NH: And you mentioned the Denver Sheriff's Department recently was far more inclusive when it revamped its policies last year. And we played a clip of your comment to Chief White where you complained that he was the 'sole arbiter' and I want to hear his response.

Chief Robert White: I'm not the sole arbiter. As I related, I wasn't interested in sitting down with a group of individuals like Lisa Calderon and others that represent a small contingent of the entire community. I was interested in hearing the voice of the entire community. And that's why that policy was the result of me going to hundreds of meetings, talking to thousands of individuals. That draft is the voices of the entire community, or at least the thousands of individuals that we spoke to versus the eight or nine or ten individuals that would sit at a table that allegedly represents another maybe a hundred or two individuals.

NH: If Chief White spoke to hundreds or thousands of individuals as he says he and his team have done, doesn't that count as community representation?

LC: Well first of all, I don't know what he means about "people like Lisa Calderon". If he means mothers whose children have been brutalized by Denver Police, that's me. If he means people with critical voices at the table, yes, that's me. You know I think dismissing those of us who have ongoing concerns really says that you don't want to hear from all of the segments of society who can weigh in. So that's the first thing. The other is that the Independent Monitor was excluded and the Independent Monitor's office was created as a result of the shooting of Paul Childs. Paul Childs, a fifteen-year-old mentally disabled black boy. And so these changes that are being made in the use of force policy are really paid for by the blood of community members. So bringing us in after the fact and saying that he's gone to all of these meetings over multiple years, just doesn't ring true in terms of an inclusive community process. 

NH: Why do you feel your arguments against the policy are indeed representative of more than just your group?

LC: You know in these turbulent political times where we are concerned about autocratic government, that gives us the illusion of input, we really should be suspect when somebody says we know best for you and we're not going to take your meaningful input into account. So you know the fact that he created community forums only after people like me and others including journalists, said that hey, you need to really open up this process. So really my question to Chief White is "How many people does it take for you to actually listen to the concerns that we have?" 

NH: But Denver's use of force policy in draft form is clearly laid out with established national best practices and it's, it has similar language as other policies from departments around the country. 

LC: Denver's actually catching up where other departments are. So for example, I think it's great that the policy finally prohibits shooting into moving vehicles, but other jurisdictions have had that for a while now, including New York. Other policies, or other jurisdictions have had policies that have been restrictive on when to use force. They have been clearer on defining what reasonable or necessary means. They've been clearer on the amount of force that have been used. So all of these are pretty vague in Denver's policy. 

NH: Lisa Calderon of the Colorado Latino Forum. We're speaking about the draft policy of Denver's use of force policy that is currently being looked at. Are there any parts of this policy you feel are acceptable?

LC: Well I think it is a start of a model policy. We are certainly not there and in order to get to that model policy, you need a variety of voices. So for example with the Denver Sheriff's Department we had not only deputies represented but also City attorneys and community members and mental health folks. So the fact that Denver chose to have this kind of secret process and then claim that emailing comments is the same as a robust community process says to me that they really aren't genuinely  interested in what we have to say.

NH: One of the points that was mentioned yesterday was the use of tasers. Denver's Independent Monitor Nick Mitchell has concerns about them as well, particularly that they don't show up in the new policy and we asked Chief White about that. 

RW: The Monitor looked at our original policy, which was thirty pages, and actually kind of looking at 21st, and everyone likes to use, they like to remind me of the 21st century, the President Obama's 21st Century Taskforce when it's convenient for them. So obviously the Monitor referred to it also. But that Taskforce also recommended that policies need to be shortened and more concise. So that is the more concise policy as it relates to philosophically what we're about and all those ancillary policies will speak to tasers and all the other weapons that officers have. 

NH: So if I heard him correctly, essentially there are all kinds of policies out there. This use of force is kind of encompassing all of that and then there'll be other policies that will be added kind of behind that. What are your thoughts on that?

LC: Well the Department of Justice came out in its findings of the Baltimore Police Department where Freddie Gray was killed, and said essentially you need to have a, not only a concise policy but an inclusive and comprehensive one. And so officers shouldn't be going to different manuals to look at use of force in different pieces of documents. The other thing is the policy isn't just written for the police, it's also for the community so if I have to go and look at seven or ten different documents just to understand what their taser policy is, that leaves the policy lacking. 

NH: And your group has been vocal in cases where police were investigated for possible excessive use of force. Denver's District Attorney has not filed charges in those cases. Do you think this new policy will make clearer when charges should be filed?

LC: I don’t think it answers that question. Our hope is that use of force, excessive force can be avoided and I think this policy does emphasize de-escalation. That said, it doesn't say when officers will be held accountable. If the standard is still an officer 'reasonably fears for his life', that's all they have to say. And what happens when the civilian also reasonably feared for their life. Well too bad, they'll, they're dead or they're seriously wounded and they have no recourse. 

NH: At the conclusion of yesterday's interview, we asked Chief White what he wouldn't budge on with regards to the new policy. And we'll pose that question to you in regards to your concerns. As a citizen, what is so important that you won't budge on?

LC: We won't budge on a policy that impacts the public being created in secret. We will continue to push for a working group to further examine this policy. It's not good enough to say we'll take your input and then we'll present you with what we think is the best because we don't know what input was received, what input was rejected. So we're going to continue to push for a transparent and accountable process. 

NH: Lisa Calderon, thanks for joining us.

LC: Thank you. I appreciate it.

NH: Lisa Calderon is the co-chair of the Colorado Latino Forum. She joined us in response to yesterday's appearance by Denver Police Chief Robert White to discuss the department's new use of force policy. You can listen and read a transcript from that interview on cpr.org. This is Colorado Matters from CPR News.