Denver’s Dirty Laundry: Where Do We Go from Here?

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Mitch Morrissey (credit: CBS)

Mitch Morrissey (credit: CBS)

Written by Dominic Dezzutti

An unusually public war of words broke out in the headlines this week between Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey and Denver Police Chief Robert White.

Now that this disagreement, which should have stayed behind closed doors, is out in the open, what’s remaining is assessing the damage and estimating how it should be handled.

First of all, the damage, while seemingly superficial at this point, may have longer lasting effects for Mayor Michael Hancock. If all remains peaceful in Denver for a few months, the ramifications of the chasm between Hancock’s top two law enforcement officers may be few.

However, if a major crisis, crime or other incident that requires the cooperation of both of these leaders occurs, their collective ability to handle it may be called into question. The decisions made in that crisis will be under even sharper scrutiny due to the public understanding that the two professionals have called each other’s decision-making ability and professionalism into question. It will take quite some time for the public to forget that important point.

At the heart of it, I have to believe that Mayor Hancock understands the significant problem on his hands. Because while this problem surrounds the DA and the Police Chief, when everything is said and done, this happened under his watch and it’ll be his job to clean it up.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Hancock calls a time out for his colleagues, in regards to the media. We may see one more statement from each office saying that comments were blown out of proportion, taken out of context, etc., but then complete radio silence should rule the day.

After a few days of letting things settle down, I would also imagine that Mayor Hancock will invent a way for both Chief White and DA Morrissey to have a mutual announcement that they have solved their disagreements and have complete faith in each other to do their jobs and more importantly, believe that each other is looking out for the public safety of Denverites.

But beyond political mopping up, there is also an underlying issue to DA Morrissey’s complaint about how Chief White is managing the Police Department.

The heart of Morrissey’s criticism is that he doesn’t have faith that trained civilians can serve the public as well as officers can when it comes to crime scene investigation. Where does this criticism come from?

If it is about the training civilian technicians would receive versus what trained officers get, why would the training be different? If it is about the experience civilians bring to the job versus the experience officers bring, then can civilians adequately do other jobs within the Police Department?

Getting more police officers on the streets is a strategy that is hard to argue with. Because funds are limited, finding a way to do that without raising taxes is a rationale that is also hard to argue with. While I’m not defending Chief White’s decision to try to get more officers on the streets, I need more reasoning behind DA Morrissey’s very public complaint before I can justify the public nature of the argument.

I can’t imagine I am the only one that is wondering about the details of the disagreement. I think that need for Morrissey’s reasoning is what might keep this story in the headlines for a few more days.

If there is indeed a serious problem with civilians doing non-patrol jobs that officers currently hold, both Chief White and Mayor Hancock may have a far larger problem on their hands.

In any event, even if Mayor Hancock wasn’t directly implicated in this week’s headlines, he’s involved now. And it may get worse before it gets better.

About The Blogger

- Dominic Dezzutti, producer of the Colorado Decides debate series, a co-production of CBS4 and Colorado Public Television, looks at the local and national political scene in his CBSDenver.com blog. Read new entries here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Dezzutti writes about federal, state and local matters and how our elected leaders are handling the issues important to Colorado. Dezzutti also produces the Emmy winning Colorado Inside Out, hosted by Raj Chohan, on Colorado Public Television.

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