Military and Police

Denver’s Newest Police Chief Sworn In — Will Change Evolve?

After embattled police Chief Robert White pends retirement under clouds of less-than-desirable climate leading to a vote of no-confidence, his successor was sworn in on Monday, July 9. Sporting the four-star collar pins, Paul M. Pazen, the city of Denver’s 68th police chief, took the oath of office to lead the roughly 1,500-sworn with 320 non-sworn member department with promises to do great things.

Chief Pazen’s swearing-in ceremony was officiated by presiding Judge Theresa A. Spahn as Denver Mayor Michael Hancock (D) and Pazen’s spouse looked on. But, a certain other figurehead was mysteriously absent: Chief White. As Mayor Hancock offered reception to the city’s newest police chief, he decided to incorporate a sort of roast to vacationing Chief White, commending him for his service. But it got awkward.

Writing for Westword, Ana Campbell reported: “Thanking him for his service, Hancock urged audience members to rise and applaud White. But as everyone’s necks craned for one final look at Denver’s police chief of the last six years, someone to the side of the stage informed Hancock that White wasn’t there. In fact, not only was he not at the ceremony, he was thousands of miles away, vacationing in the Dominican Republican.” I guess that’s one way to pass the torch.

Despite the embarrassing no-show miscue, Mayor Hancock doled out accolades for his new police chief: “One word describes our chief of police: unifier,” otherwise coined by Hancock as Paul “Smiley” Pazen. Favored by the majority, Pazen comes from within and has almost a quarter-century worth of experience working as a cop, having joind the Denver Police Department in 1995. His early years endured enlistment with the US Marine Corps after witnessing his single-mom’s hardships while raising him. I’d say she did rather well.

Swearing In Pazen

THERE'S A NEW CHIEF IN TOWNToday, Paul Pazen was sworn in as the Denver Police Department's 65th Chief of Police! WATCH the historic moment now and join us in congratulating Chief Pazen and wishing him the best of luck on this journey!

Posted by Denver Police Department on Monday, July 9, 2018

Hoping for Change

Recently, OpsLens reported on some of the ongoing improprieties among Denver governance. One grotesque example made national headlines when Mayor Hancock’s son Jordan Hancock exercised an obscene tirade and utter resistance to a law enforcement officer.

That disgusting behavior from a metropolis mayor’s son during a traffic stop conducted by an Aurora police officer was subsequently downplayed by Mayor Hancock. Hancock’s mayoral office drafted a statement and apologized on behalf of the mayor’s son. I remember when my mom wrote a note to the elementary-school nun, apologizing for my poor decision to talk in the school hallway, between classes.

It appears Denver leadership attracts behavioral mistakes. Against department policy, Chief White engaged in a “chase” which culminated in a traffic crash with a citizen’s car in Aurora, Denver’s adjoining city. Chief White called it in. That 9-1-1 audio tape contains ample times with White referring to his actions involving the crash as a “chase.” The muddy waters in Denver governance washed over the whole thing. As the Denver Police Protective Association (union) correctly asserted: any other rank-and-file police officer would have been subjected to harsh punishment (if not terminated) for such an incident. White received no punishment whatsoever. Mayor Hancock exonerated him for the chase-which-wasn’t-a-chase saga. Only an apology was offered to his troops, the same ones which didn’t trust or care to work under him. Two weeks later, White announced his retirement—pending his successor.

Then there was the Hizzoner himself: Mayor Hancock ostensibly courting an affair with a police detective assigned to his security detail. “Denver police Detective Leslie Branch-Wise attests that Mayor Hancock ‘made inappropriate comments’ and sent her texts which were flirtatious and suggestive: ‘You made it hard on a brotha to keep it correct every day.’ I don’t think he was talking about spelling bees or algebra. Per ABC‘s Denver7 affiliate, Mayor Hancock sent the police detective a text which read in part, ‘You look sexy in all that black.’ Yet another tawdry text he sent to Det. Branch-Wise, Mayor Hancock clearly got personnel when he wrote: ‘So I just watched this story on women taking pole dancing lessons. Have you ever taken one? Why do women take the course? If not have you ever considered taking one and why? Your thoughts?” is what I wrote on May 17 of this year.

A married man, Hancock apologized and downplayed that elected-official blunder as well, claiming he meant no wrong. Incidentally, Detective Leslie-Branch was suspended six days before Chief Pazen’s swearing-in milestone. Lingering Chief White put his stamp of approval on the detective’s suspension, a suspension related to an alleged investigative mishap for which it is claimed Det. Leslie-Branch is responsible. Wonder what would have happened had she been involved in a chase.

Those are a mere microcosm of what has been going on in the Mile High City. But there is a new boss in town. Chief Pazen brings home-grown experience and favor culled from DPD members respecting police command staff likeability and integrity.

Out With the Old, In With the New

All that remains now is for Chief Pazen to exhibit if he will flow with winds of change—as he publicly expressed—or blend in with the dank political drafts in a city whose dubious, unscrupulous leadership behavior may swoop him among the tawdry mix. Mayor Hancock labeled Chief Pazen a born and raised “Denver child” who exudes tons of empathy while possessing an “organic and genuine love for the city of Denver.” Those are wonderful accolades for anyone’s ears. Yet, after I watched the entire version of the swearing-in ceremony, my scrutiny piqued when Mayor Hancock invited Chief Pazen’s spouse to the stage to stand with her husband while taking his oath of office. Close enough for the mic to pick it up, Hancock asked “What is her name?” to which Chief Pazen replied “Shirley.” Details, details, huh? The mayor didn’t even know his outgoing chief was not present for his successor’s ceremony? The same mayor didn’t know his new top cop’s spouse’s name? Chief Pazen may be “organic” while someone else up there is unabashedly disingenuous.

One of the leftover projects Chief White vowed to resolve and implement over 18 months ago was retooling and enhancing the agency’s use-of-force policy. It’s fair to say the relatively retired White vacationing in the Dominican Republic is sipping tropical cocktails and not tapping keys to numb lock flaws in the use-of-force matrix. Nevertheless, Chief Pazen proclaims, “We are looking forward to the final product and I will work to ensure that all of our officers receive the adequate training for the policy in order to maintain that public trust.”

If after reading this you’ve arrived at the conclusion that, as it stands right now, there are two Denver police chiefs, your math is correct. My guess is Chief White is being permitted to remain until a certain date, typically resulting in some pension or other monetary benefit. How quaint. Let’s hope new leadership is not going to morph into a political pawn and conjoin the behind-the-scenes workings or bold shenanigans recently playing-out in Denver. If Chief Pazen’s tenure happens to be short-lived, you can confidently surmise he was asked to drink blood from the political chalice.

The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own and are not the view of OpsLens which seeks to provide a platform for experience-driven commentary on today's trending headlines in the U.S. and around the world. Have a different opinion or something more to add on this topic? Contact us for guidelines on submitting your own experience-driven commentary.
Stephen Owsinski

Stephen Owsinski is an OpsLens Content Manager and Contributor. Owsinski is a retired law enforcement officer whose career included assignments in the Uniformed Patrol Division and Field Training Officer (FTO) unit. He is currently a researcher and writer. Follow Stephen on Twitter @uniformblue.

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