Law enforcement leaders like police chiefs have a difficult balancing act to perform in the wake of last fall and winter’s police protests.
On the one hand, police chiefs have to be smart about how to engage protestors as they are lawfully assembling to voice their opinions—a cornerstone of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
On the other hand, they have to consider the feelings of their officers. And these days plenty of cops feel like the whole universe is acting in concert against them. While that might be a little over the top, it’s the way many cops feel.
In Denver, following the shooting death of a young girl in a stolen car that wound up striking a police officer, protestors took to the streets. At some point, some of the protestors vandalized a local police memorial by throwing red paint on the names of the fallen officers.
Now, the rank and file in Denver is livid and cops are calling for the chief to be fired.
Denver Police Chief Robert White is now defending his policy-ordering police not to interfere with protesters.
White says that while he found it “disgusting” that they vandalized a memorial for fallen police officers, but he said their restraint was necessary to protect the community and deescalate the situation.
In an email sent throughout the department 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.
Matthew Goldberg, 23, and Robert Guerrero, 25, were charged with criminal mischief-vandalism for throwing red paint on the memorial during the rally.
“That our officers, working the demonstration today, had to watch the outrageous vandalism to our sacred memorial, without being able to intervene, is inexcusable and unacceptable,” Denver Police Officer Danny Veith wrote in an email to White. “Equally alarming is the escalation of anti-police rhetoric in our city, incendiary language and actions that have yet to be countered by city leaders, the mayor, or yourself.”
Veith told the AP he sent the email because he feels the brass ignores the rank-and-file.
Nick Rogers, president of the union that represents the majority of Denver’s approximately 1,400 officers, said the chief’s decision “empowers lawlessness.”
“What that tells protesters is, you can do whatever you want, we’ll take care of it later,” said Victoria Oliver, a police union board member. “Law enforcement agencies across the nation are under siege right now. The administration needs to back us at some point—just some show of support.”