DENVER (CBS4)- In the wake of demonstrations that filled the streets of downtown Denver neighbors, police officers are left trying to patch historically deep wounds and wondering how to move forward. Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen tells CBS4's morning anchor Britt Moreno he is now leading the department's 1,600 officers by lending an ear.
"We have to listen and figure out how we can improve. I believe the status quo is not good enough."
During "Black Lives Matter" marches and demonstrations, officers used tear gas and pepper spray to subdue unruly or violent crowds. Pazen says the officers' job is tough. A total of 76 officers sustained injuries and physical abuse. He also admits some cops ended up hurting the very people they should be trying to protect and by doing so, they discredited other officers' good police work.
"I have questions about some video and some performances by officers. And we will investigate to the fullest. I initiated those cases."
When asked if there is systematic racism within the Denver Police Department, Pazen said, "It is a reflection of the community. There are institutional biases within and we have to be resolute in weeding it out and standing up and saying, 'We won't tolerate any racism.'"
He goes on to say these biases exist within the health care world, economics, and housing.
"If not now, when? This is a global movement we have to do it and do it now."
After listening to people demonstrating and marching alongside demonstrators, Pazen says his eyes were opened to a new way of policing.
"We have to move forward together. It can't be us versus them."
He says an officer's mission should be to help people and keep them out of the criminal justice system.
Pazen says his department has partnered with community groups to do this, "including groups that historically are not too fond of the police department. Those are some of the best results we've had."
Programs like Star Program, LEAD and the Case Manager Program, he says, embolden people to get on the right path. Pazen says he will continue to examine public health when trying to change the relationship between the police department and minority communities. He says listening to people at local demonstrations has also enlightened him and he would like to continue having that conversation.
"Those talks will stay with me forever."
The chief says the community has already helped the Denver Police Department make a progressive policy change regarding its ban on chokeholds. The chief says soon all officers will comply with a judge's ruling and wear body cameras. The chief says he, too, will wear one. He says paying for storage is expensive and the department is still figuring out how to do that.
To fully know which direction his department is going, you need to understand Pazen's roots.
"I never lose sight of where I came from. I grew up in North Denver."
Pazen says his mother and grandmother deserve the credit for raising him, but it was the community that kept him on the right path.
"I use that lens to shape what it is that we as a police department should be doing."
He claims community is all we have and the only way to restore that sense of unity is by moving forward together, "We want to have the safest most equitable city in America that's what we want and that's what the community wants."
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