Denver Police Chief Robert White on Sunday defended his policy ordering police not to interfere with protesters, saying he found it “disgusting” that they vandalized a memorial for fallen police officers while officers had to stand by and watch, but he said their restraint was necessary to protect the community.
Protesters threw red paint on the memorial outside the department’s headquarters Saturday during a march against police brutality.
Officers and the city’s police union were upset after they were told not to interfere.
In an email sent throughout the department on Sunday, White said there are only rare occasions when police would have to take “immediate enforcement action” during a demonstration.
“We have learned that providing route security at a distance and intentionally avoiding direct confrontation prevents injury to officers, limits liability, and minimizes the criminal actions of many protesters,” the chief wrote in the email obtained by The Associated Press. The email came after officers said they should have been allowed to act sooner upon witnessing a crime.
Denver Director of Public Safety Stephanie O’Malley said the policy of restraint is “a model for other cities as they respond to a growing wave of protests across America.”
Denver police issued the policy following widespread protests over several people killed by police, including the police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed, black 18-year-old in Ferguson, Missouri, and the police chokehold death of Eric Garner in New York City. Officers involved in both deaths were later cleared of any charges by local grand juries.
In Denver, some protesters held signs in support of Jessica Hernandez, a teenager who was shot and killed by Denver officers last month after she drove a stolen car toward an officer. .
White said the decision not to intervene in Saturday’s protest was appropriate because police had identified suspects and had a plan to arrest them.
Nick Rogers, president of the union that represents the majority of Denver’s approximately 1,400 officers, said the chief’s decision “empowers lawlessness.”