Denver Sheriff’s New Use-Of-Force Policy Aims For De-Escalation

Photo: Firman, Hancock, O'Malley
Denver Sheriff Patrick Firman, Mayor Michael Hancock and Manager of Safety Stephanie O’Malley at the city's announcement of the sheriff department's use-of-force policy on Thursday, June 16, 2016.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and law enforcement officials on Thursday announced a new use-of-force policy at the Denver Sheriff Department – one that emphasizes de-escalation of violence and force avoidance.

The policy is part of a larger package of reforms aimed at overhauling the once-troubled department.

The policy, announced during a city hall press conference, provides more guidance to deputies on when force may or not be appropriate.

“This policy is an acknowledgement of community expectations regarding the treatment of incarcerated persons that emphasizes the needs of deputies to de-escalate situations as an alternative to using force when reasonably possible, and clarifies the policy standard defining circumstances when force may be used,” said Denver Sheriff Patrick Firman.

The policy emphasizes de-escalation techniques based on resolution through voluntary compliance, whenever possible. It also calls for deputies to contact supervisors to help plan responses to threats.

Deputies cannot use force in response to swearing or insults from an inmate. And if they are using their body weight to control a resisting inmate, they must ease up once the inmate has been restrained.

Deputies are also given guidance on when force may appropriate, such as cases where using force on an inmate would prevent harm to others.

“This is not about putting sheriff’s deputies in a position where they can’t defend themselves. They’ve got to continue to defend themselves; we expect them to do that,” Hancock said. “But also, what are the standards in which we are going to measure and judge their response by?”

A 300-page independent report released last year found many operational problems within the sheriff’s department and recommended 277 changes to department policies.

Hancock ordered the review in 2014 after the city paid out millions of dollars in legal settlements tied to misconduct cases.

The new use-of-force policies are the result of a task force that worked hundreds of hours to create these changes.

“The hope is that the policy, once enacted and once truly practiced, that there will be certainly fewer excessive force cases, which is just generally good for the jail population. It’s good for the city. It’s good for the sheriff,” said Denise Maes, public policy director the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, who was a member of the policy task force.

Firman said he expects deputies to be trained on the new polices by the end of the year.