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Denver to replace police chief as Robert White retires

Author: Joey Bunch - April 24, 2018 - Updated: May 10, 2018

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Robert WhiteColorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, left, greets Denver Police Chief Robert White as marchers gather to take part in the annual parade to mark the birthday of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. in January. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Denver is looking for a new police chief now that Chief Robert White has announced he plans to retire after more than six years as the city’s top cop.

He plans to stay on until his replacement is hired. Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said he’s forming a search committee and that the city will do extensive community outreach before naming a replacement.

“Candidates for the next chief of police will be limited to current and retired members of the Denver Police Department,” a statement from the mayor said.

White will conclude a career that started 46 years ago, when he joined the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, D.C. He came to Denver in December 2011 after serving as police chief in Louisville, Kentucky, for nine years.

“It has been my honor to serve the people of this great city and this department of truly exceptional officers and staff,” White said in a statement released by the mayor’s office Tuesday afternoon. “And I want to thank Mayor Hancock for allowing me the opportunity to strengthen the department and its bonds to the community. It has been an incredibly challenging and rewarding six-plus years that I will forever be grateful for and proud of.”

In 2011 White inherited a department rocked by police-abuse scandals and community discontent, including the 2009 police beating of a gay man caught on surveillance video that showed officers lied about him being belligerent.

“On behalf of everyone in Denver, I want to thank Chief White for his dedication to our city and his distinguished service over these past six years,” Hancock stated. “Through his great work, he has firmly established a legacy of building strong community relationships and a police department better equipped and prepared to keep our neighborhoods and residents safe, and I wish the chief all the best in his much-deserved retirement.”

White endured his own controversies about whether he went too far to support President Obama’s visits and the president’s agenda on guns in 2013. White also was accused of telling officers to stand down as vandals attacked a police memorial as part of a protest on police violence in 2015.

The city provided a long list of changes he has made in the department and in the community to increase safety, including revising the department’s use-of-force policy to emphasize de-escalation over confrontation, “and developing a demographic data collection program to help determine whether or not certain populations are being contacted by police officers at disproportionate rates,” the mayor’s office said in a press release.

Board chairman Christian Anschutz said the Denver Police Foundation is sad to see White go.

“Under his visionary leadership, the Denver Police Department has implemented a number of progressive programs that will benefit the dedicated men and women in the department, as well as the Denver community, for generations to come,” said Anschutz, who is vice chairman of the Colorado Springs Gazette, which has the same owner as Colorado Politics.

“Chief White’s retirement marks the departure of a great representative of Denver and a good friend to its citizens. While the Denver Police Foundation and I are sorry to see him leave, we thank Chief White for his service and wish him and his family the very best going forward.”

Denver City Council President Albus Brooks said White was a national expert on police matters and an asset to the city.

“His retirement, while well-earned, will leave a void in our community,” Brooks said in a statement.

The Rev. Leon Kelly, executive director of Open Door Youth Gang Alternatives, said that in his 30 years trying to keep young people out of trouble, the past six years have made a difference because of White.

“His willingness to work to level the playing field has impressed me; he is definitely at the top of my list of innovators for police change,” Kelly stated. “Most importantly, while I commend what he’s been able to do as the police chief, I have also been privileged to know him as a husband and a father. His ability to balance work, home and spiritual life is an inspiration.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated to remove a reference to Marvin Booker, who died in the custody of the Denver Sheriff’s Department, not the police department.

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch is the senior political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has a 31-year career in journalism, including the last 15 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and is a two-time Pulitzer finalist. His resume includes covering high school sports, the environment, the casino industry and civil rights in the South, as well as a short stint at CNN.