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Denver needs an elected sheriff, free of political influence, activists say

Author: Adam McCoy - January 16, 2018 - Updated: January 16, 2018


Despite reforms, the Denver Sheriff’s Department’s management of the city jail system remains a “quagmire,” an activist group says. That’s why Denver County taxpayers should have the power to elect their sheriff.

Denver is one of only two Colorado counties that doesn’t elect its sheriff; the mayor makes the pick.

Over the weekend, the Colorado Latino Forum launched a May 2019 municipal election ballot initiative campaign to make the Denver County sheriff an elected official. It says it has the support of business leaders, jail reform advocates, neighborhood organizers, faith leaders and others.

“The Denver Sheriff Department, the largest jailing system in the region, is a quagmire of rising assaults, inadequate inmate services, low staff morale and failed leadership,” campaign Co-Chair Lisa Calderon said in a statement. “Despite a three-year reform effort and tens of millions of dollars paid out for consultants, settlements, and skyrocketing overtime pay, Denver taxpayers have had enough of local politicians using the general fund as a blank check without a return on investment.”

The sheriff’s department has been dogged by controversies in recent years. In the fall of 2015, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock appointed Patrick Firman to the helm at the Denver Sheriff’s Department to reform the city’s jail. The appointment came on the heels of a consultant’s review of the department that found deep excessive force and mismanagement problems. Most recently, critics have pointed to news that overtime spending has cost the department millions, signaling continued struggles. The department has completed about 70 percent of the recommendations from the consultant review.

The Colorado Latino Forum said an elected sheriff would be more accountable, operating independently of political influence, much like the city auditor and clerk and recorder. The group argues as a political appointee, the sheriff is only accountable to the mayor, operating without transparency.

Voters “deserve real reform by electing an independent leader with the power to make sweeping changes to improve public safety, reduce costs, expand inmate services, increase staff morale and build public trust,” Calderon said.

Adam McCoy

Adam McCoy

Adam McCoy covers Denver-area politics for Colorado Politics.

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