Editorial: Dumb down standards for Denver police officers? Not so fast.

Estimated read time 4 min read

Denver needs more police officers on the streets, but not if recruiting new cadets requires dumbing down the standards and ignoring red flags in applicants. We are concerned by reports from the executive director of the Civil Service Commission that city officials are pressuring the commission to lower standards for applicants.

Mayor Mike Johnston should come forward and be transparent about what his administration was asking of the Civil Service Commission. As concerning as the allegations from Executive Director Niecy Murray are, the air of secrecy and her needing to hold a whistleblower press conference is a warning sign of its own that a healthy public debate on these issues is not taking place.

Murray was fired by the commission — a five-member appointed board — shortly after she held a press conference flanked by three city council members who shared her concerns.

We could see the city presenting evidence that the standards are impossibly high or that psychological evaluations are an imperfect science, but we cannot support quietly lowering standards for peace officers without a robust debate and public scrutiny.

Murray said she was pressured to reduce both the test scores required and to waive a failed psychological exam.

Coloradans spoke loud and clear in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis and Elijah McClain’s death in Aurora – police need to be held to a higher standard. Yes, training is a key part of making certain that police officers know how to de-escalate situations and, if necessary, how to safely restrain a suspect. But America has also come to realize that bad apples do not belong in the police force.

Denverites have an interest in keeping bad apples off the force; it can be particularly difficult to remove problematic and even dangerous officers from the Denver Police Department and the Denver Sheriff Department. The city has a better process than some for terminating officers for cause, but even still, the powerful police union makes removing bad officers difficult.

In 2020, two police officers who were fired a decade earlier for beating a man and then lying about the incident were reinstated to the force on a technicality that the Denver Department of Safety didn’t follow the exact order of operations for termination, including rescinding a previously more lenient discipline.

Getting the right officers on the force the first time is critical.

The Denver Civil Service Commission released a statement denying it was under pressure  to ease the standards for applicants to the police department, and also announced the firing of the agency’s executive director only a few hours after she had held a press conference to blow the whistle about her concerns.

The Civil Service Commission’s chair, Amber Miller, said the commission had decided to fire Murray before the executive director went public with her concerns. The statement said that Murray was trying to get out ahead of the news she had been terminated – fine.

But the public still needs to know if standards could be reduced and who is pushing behind the scenes for that action. If the standards are ridiculously high, then let’s have that discussion. If the proposed reductions don’t hold up to public scrutiny, then we’ll all owe a debt of gratitude to Murray for blowing the whistle.

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