Vandals who defaced a police memorial in Denver while police stood by and watched are at the heart of a brewing controversy between statewide law enforcement officials and the city’s mayor. Though Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and Police Chief Robert White are publicly united over the police’s non-involvement when protesters turned to vandalism and splashed red paint on the memorial on Saturday, the negative response on a state level has been strong.
“While it was organized professional protesters that perpetrated this planned hate crime, the blame lies completely at your doorstep,” wrote the Colorado Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) in a scathing three-page letter on Monday, calling for Chief White’s ouster. The FOP also wants the mayor to fire Stephanie O’Malley, the city’s Manager of Public Safety, over the incident.
The FOP argues in its letter that a more hands-off approach has become the “standard” for the Denver police who “allowed this despicable hate based act to occur.”
Denver’s approach is not uncommon. In the wake of violence and controversy over the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., last summer, many police forces have adopted less aggressive tactics in dealing with potentially hostile crowds.
That has been the case even in New York City, whose police force numbers roughly 35,000, after the non-indictment of a police officer who put Eric Garner in a choke hold that contributed to his death.
In Denver, union officials have said that officers feel besieged because of criticism about police use-of-force.
White said in an email to his department Sunday that restraint during demonstrations helps keep officers safe.
“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.
Both the mayor and the police chief have condemned Saturday’s vandalism, but Chief White has added that his police force needed to show restraint in order to protect the community.
The protest march and vandalism were part of an event against police brutality organized and attended by Occupy Denver and Anonymous. Matthew Goldberg, 23, and Robert Guerrero, 25, were charged with criminal mischief-vandalism for throwing red paint on the memorial during the rally.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.