Denver Sheriff’s Dept. ‘seriously mismanaged,’ city auditor says

March 19, 2015
Photo: Protest of Denver Sheriff's Department (AP Photo)
Protester Michael J. Moore holds a sign against the Denver Sheriff's Department during rally outside the city jail in Denver on Monday, Oct. 6, 2014. 

Denver Auditor Dennis Gallagher released a report Thursday blasting the Sheriff's Department as "seriously mismanaged." 

The report, released in the wake of a string of jail abuse cases that have cost the city more than $10 million since 2012, found three areas of trouble: "the failure of the Department of Safety to provide vision for and proper oversight of the Sheriff’s Department; the Department’s actual jail management practices; and undue risk related to internal investigations and the disciplinary process."

Gallagher said in a press release that he is "deeply troubled" by the findings. 

“We have all heard the stories of abuse and other problems and are aware of the significant settlements that the city has made but to learn of the level of mismanagement that have allowed these problems to persist is what is most disturbing,” Gallagher said.

The auditor's report lists 18 recommendations to the Department of Safety and Sheriff's Department, including improving staff training, analyzing use of force incident data on an annual basis, and reconciling staffing needs with the available budget. Jails have been understaffed and deputies are working long hours, which has lead to high turnover.

Interim Denver Sheriff Elias Diggins said they are actively recruiting new deputies and working to stem turnover in the ranks.

"We have a small group of people in our organization who have caused us a lot of problems," Diggins said. "We're addressing those problems head on, we're making sure that every Denver sheriff understands what it means to serve the public."

Two deputies were fired for excessive force last year. But Audit Committee member Leslie Mitchell noted that the Sheriff's Department has still not acted on more than 130 reform recommendations from previous audits.

"As a citizen, reading this report, it feels to me that the problem is just a can that just keeps getting kicked down the road," Mitchell said.

Turnover has also plagued senior leadership in the departments; Stephanie O'Malley is the eighth manager of safety since 2010. She told the committee it will take years to build up data analysis that could help identify root causes of problems at the city's jails.

"We're getting at these problems incrementally," she said.

Audit Committee member Jeff Hart wasn't satisfied with that answer. He told O'Malley and Higgins that they need to attack this like a SWAT team attacks criminals.

"I'm looking for somebody to tell me that we're drawing a line in the sand here, and we're sending in the SWAT team to fix this urgent problem," Hart said.

Neither O'Malley nor Diggins would commit to when some of these issues would be corrected, saying they were waiting for another consultant's report. 

CPR News' Nathaniel Minor contributed to this report.