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Denver Police Take-Home Car Goes Too Far

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A take-home vehicle (credit: CBS)

A take-home vehicle (credit: CBS)

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Written by Brian Maass
DENVER (CBS4) – A high-ranking Denver police commander has been using a city car to commute to and from work from her home in Elizabeth, 40 miles from Denver, even though the daily commute violated a mayoral executive order, city fiscal accountability rule and directives issued by the Denver police chief, all of which prohibit “take home cars” from going to homes more than 25 miles from Denver’s City and County Building.

“That’s a rule we are all subject to,” said Lt. Matt Murray, a spokesman for the Denver Police Department. “There’s a fiscal rule that says you can’t take a car home” if you live beyond 25 miles, said Murray. “If you don’t live within that range, you can’t take a car home,” said the DPD spokesperson. “Who is exempt from that rule?,” Murray was asked. “Nobody I know of,” he responded.

“I have approval of the chief,” countered Division Chief Tracie Keesee, who is seen by many as a frontrunner to become Denver’s next police chief.

In a phone interview with CBS4, Keesee said she had been taking a city car home since 2005. She oversees the DPD’s Research, Training and Technology Division.

“It’s no surprise to the chief,” said Keesee. She declined to speak on camera with CBS4.

She lives in Elizabeth, deep in rural Elbert County, nearly an hour-long drive from her office at Denver Police Headquarters in downtown Denver. The city rules against long commutes cropped up in the early 2000s to address high gas prices and the dubious benefit of having an emergency responder live so far away in the case of an emergency.

In 2002, Mayor Wellington Webb signed an executive order addressing the city’s vehicle use policies. The order said that to be eligible for a take home car “the driver’s home is within a twenty-five (25) mile radius of the City and County Building.”

Three weeks later, Chief Gerry Whitman issued his own directive writing that, “The employee’s residence, and any personal use, must be confined to a 25-mile radius of the City and County Building.”

In 2006, the city issued a fiscal accountability rule that was updated in 2009 emphasizing take home vehicles can only be taken home if “The driver’s home is within a twenty-five (25) mile radius of the City and County Building.”

Keesee indicated Whitman verbally overrode all those rules and regulations, even though the CBS4 probe found he didn’t have the authority to do so.

In a statement to CBS4 Thursday, Denver Mayor Bill Vidal made it clear Whitman had exceeded his authority and did not have the ability to override multiple city rules and regulations.

“Chief Whitman mistakenly granted permission for Division Chief Keesee to take home her vehicle and waived the mileage requirement,” said Vidal.

The mayor’s office said that following the CBS4 probe. Keesee was ordered to cease taking her car home to Elizabeth.

“Chief Whitman has instructed Division Chief Keesee to not take home her city vehicle until the proper approval has been secured. Mayor Vidal will consider the waiver request after discussing emergency response policies with the Department of Safety.”

The mayor’s office called Whitman’s actions an “oversight and not an intentional violation … no discipline is warranted.”

Justin Demello, the former head of Denver’s Office of Emergency Management, was caught violating the 25 mile rule in 2008. Demello was using a city vehicle to commute to and from Fort Collins, about 62 miles. At the time, Demello told KUSA-TV he was unaware of the city executive order and the fiscal accountability rule outlining the 25 mile requirement. Demello resigned his position shortly after details of his unauthorized commute were reported.

Mark Leone, a former Denver police lieutenant, reviewed the evidence gathered during the CBS4 investigation and said what occurred undermines the police departments credibility and accountability.

“It in essence broadcasts to the organization that if you are one of the chosen ones — friends and family — the rules are not applicable to you. Anytime you’re involved with an organization or family or boss, that says, “Do as I say, not as I do,” all it does is permeate the organization that rules don’t apply. It’s a piece of the culture that needs to be changed,” said Leone.

Keesee’s commute is costly for Denver taxpayers. Fuel records obtained by CBS4 show that in a typical month, Keesee has to fill up her city SUV three times a week. In May, records show the division chief filled up 10 times and put more than 2,000 miles on the Lincoln Aviator. Figuring fuel costs at $4 per gallon, taxpayers spent more than $500 in a single month to fuel her commute.

Her take home vehicle is one of about 250 DPD vehicles driven home every night. Each take home car user must have a current authorization form on file to be allowed to take a vehicle home.

CBS4 requested Keesee’s take home car authorization forms on June 15. A week later, the department provided two forms for two take home vehicles Keesee has driven since June, 2010. The manager of records for the police department said authorization forms for Keesee beginning in 2005 could not be located. However both forms provided to CBS4 were dated June 15, 2011 and signed by Chief Whitman that same day. Additionally, both forms for Keesee indicated she lived beyond 25 miles from Denver, but that she lived in Parker, which is much closer to Denver than Elizabeth.

In email exchanges with CBS4, Keesee wrote that, “The forms were redone by the fleet Sgt. O’Shea, who took them to Chief Whitman for his signature. Parker was not written in by me.”

She did not offer any further explanation for why her subordinate wrote that she lived in Parker instead of Elizabeth. Keesee was asked how many times she has been called out from home for emergencies in the past year. She did not respond to that request.

The CBS4 findings echo problems pointed out by the Denver auditor in a report released in January 2011 on city take home vehicles.

“Audit work determined that requirements surrounding take-home vehicles are not being monitored, complied with, or applied consistently. The numerous problems identified by audit work regarding take-home vehicles ultimately create the perception that the city does not view managing take-home vehicle usage as a high priority.”

The audit went on to say, “That there is little oversight and monitoring over take-home vehicles.”

Ann Williams, a spokesperson for Mayor Bill Vidal, told CBS4 that the police department’s public information officer was mistaken when he said there were no exemptions to the 25 mile take home car rule.

“He made an honest mistake,” said Williams, who said the lieutenant was unaware of the deal Whitman had made with Keesee.

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