Q&A: Denver’s new sheriff on studying from protesters, modeling Denver’s jails after Norway, and extra


Denver’s new sheriff is taking on management of the town’s two jails at an unprecedented time, as a worldwide pandemic and nationwide civil rights motion are altering the way in which the nation thinks about crime and punishment.
Sheriff Elias Diggins took over as Denver’s jails stay the location of one of many largest COVID-19 outbreaks within the state, 140 of the company’s 871 deputy positions are unfilled and the names of males killed within the metropolis’s jails have been chanted by protesters within the streets.
Diggins joined the division in 1994 and labored his method by way of the ranks, together with a stint as interim sheriff from 2014 to 2015. He has been in high-ranking positions throughout the jail’s many controversies during the last a number of years and has develop into embroiled in them himself, together with a secretly-recorded telephone name that price him his earlier place as interim sheriff and a lawsuit alleging he coated up mistreatment of an inmate. Each he and Mayor Michael Hancock acknowledged that historical past throughout a information convention saying his appointment and stated it was time for Diggins to have a second probability.
Diggins spoke with The Denver Publish on Wednesday about his priorities as sheriff, requires legal justice reform and extra. The interview has been edited for readability and brevity.
There may be numerous dialogue within the metropolis, and nation, about legal justice reform. What reforms would you wish to see right here on the Denver Sheriff Division? 
It’s totally different from reform. It’s transformation. We’ve been by way of numerous reform over the previous few years. We’re now in a state of transformation. The whole lot that we do, we’ve acquired to revisit and perceive what’s the neighborhood’s expectation for who the Denver Sheriff Division is. What does the neighborhood anticipate us to be? And thru all the protest, by way of the civil uneasiness and unrest, legislation enforcement as an entire has to rework. I wish to be certain that humanity is infused in every little thing that we do, that we lead with our humanity always. And that we acknowledge that the people who find themselves with us — whether or not they’re in custody or folks that we’re coping with in the neighborhood or the courts — that we cope with them in the way in which that we would like anyone to cope with our mother or our dad, deal with them with the dignity and respect that we give to our sisters or to our brothers.
The opposite factor that I wish to share with everybody, with our workers, is that we’ve acquired to know that deprivation of an individual’s freedom is their punishment. All of us, by way of our constitutional rights, are endowed with three inalienable rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And once we take away an individual’s inalienable proper of liberty, once we take that away, that’s sufficient. We don’t must punish anybody additional.
In earlier interviews, you referenced an curiosity in following the Norweigan mannequin of incarceration, particularly in relation to re-entry. Are you interested by trying on the different components of the Norway mannequin, like making a homier setting and constructing extra equitable relationships between deputies and inmates? 
I haven’t been to Norway but. However I’ve been to Las Colinas, which is the the ladies’s detention facility run by the San Diego Sheriff’s Division. They’ve taken the concepts behind that and really performed it in the US, the place the colour palettes which might be on the partitions are one thing that you’d see in your house. The way in which that the campus is laid out could be very open. The housing areas are vibrant, the furnishings, the fixtures, the tools, every little thing is finished with the sense of understanding that jail doesn’t must be a hardened setting with the intention to maintain it safe. And that’s what the Norway mannequin is. It’s about understanding that the setting has a direct impression on somebody’s psyche whereas they’re in your custody.
What now we have already performed is try to duplicate parts of that with our Constructing 24 challenge. We really despatched a bunch out to San Diego to see the Las Colinas mannequin. For those who go to the county jail campus it has totally different coloration palettes which might be intentional. I want to ultimately see that we transfer sooner or later to replicating that in every little thing that we do.
One of many issues that I do know is in Norway, and even at Las Colinas, the interplay between the workers and the individuals in custody is method totally different. There’s a stage of respect that begins with the way in which that (deputies) deal with individuals, they deal with individuals with sir and ma’am. And I believe that goes far to say that you just’re addressing everybody with a way of dignity. And that begins to let individuals know that you just nonetheless have your dignity.
How do you get to individuals on board with that concept who aren’t already?
Effectively, now we have individuals that may function ambassadors within our company. It’s about making certain that I’m choosing leaders that really imagine in it that may assist to make the transformation, and for individuals who are somewhat tougher to purchase in, maybe we even take them to a few of these locations in order that they will see how this works. To allow them to see how the setting could be totally different and hopefully get them to that place.
Do you intend on making any of these sort of environmental modifications on the Downtown Detention Heart?
We’ll go searching to see the place we are able to try this. The largest change which you can make one thing that’s quite simple, is altering the colour patterns to be extra inviting. Jail doesn’t must be simply all stark grey partitions. As soon as we get out of the recession that we’re in and have a chance to maybe change the furnishings, fixtures and tools. There are firms that are actually making tools that’s nonetheless detention grade. It’s secure in a jail setting. Nevertheless it’s seats that you just see in an workplace or that you just see in a convention room, issues of that nature that simply look somewhat bit totally different than what you see a in a typical jail setting.
The Denver jail inhabitants has been hovering at about 50% of its pre-pandemic numbers attributable to modifications in arrests and bond procedures meant to scale back the variety of individuals locked up throughout COVID-19. Is that one thing you’d wish to see proceed sooner or later, this strategized solution to cut back the variety of individuals locked up right here?
Completely. I completely hope that we are able to keep within the area the place we’re solely jailing individuals when it’s completely obligatory. As a final resort.
What are your different priorities for the subsequent six months?
Getting out and speaking to our workers and documenting a few issues. The primary is the challenges that they see with our company, but in addition what they imagine to be the options. And I believe that’s actually the place you get these issues is from the individuals which might be on the bottom that do the work, the rank and file workers, uniform and civilian that may carry these nice concepts. So I’m getting out. I’m going to be touring and speaking with them. I’m gonna do the identical factor with the individuals which might be in our custody and speak to them and likewise speak to the neighborhood.
Talking of the neighborhood, I’m additionally standing up a board that’s going to satisfy each single month. The title of it’s the Group Worker Management Council. It’s gonna embody neighborhood advocates, in addition to some people that I’m not going to speak about but as a result of I’m nonetheless making an attempt to get them to the desk, in addition to the management of each single worker group contained in the Denver Sheriff’s Division to make sure that our staff have a voice. And that group goes to be accomplished on my own, my two chiefs, the six majors, and a few of our different senior leaders, and we’re going to satisfy each single month, and we’re going to maintain minutes and the management crew goes to be answerable for responding and taking motion on the concepts which might be delivered to that desk.
That’s going to assist to carry morale. I believe it’s going to assist decrease attrition. And it’s going to be one thing that’s seen as an effort in direction of the goodwill that the neighborhood expects from the Denver Sheriff Division.
What are the largest challenges within the division proper now?
It’s completely retention. With regards to morale, we’ve acquired to make sure that we give our workers a voice and that we’re actively shifting in direction of these options. And in order that’s going to be a precedence for each single chief on this company. We’ve some coaching to do with a few of our supervisors to assist them to know what it means to be a pacesetter. To have the ability to direct the actions of workers is one thing that typically could be a problem. However each single supervisor, particularly the sergeants, that are an important management rank in our company, they’ve to be comfy in doing.
These are in all probability the largest challenges for us apart from the general belief that has been damaged with the neighborhood with all legislation enforcement and determining methods to earn that again.
Did you attend or watch any of the protests which have occurred right here prior to now months?
I used to be really deployed throughout the protest and labored there. And there’s a video on Twitter of the protesters got here proper as much as 14th Avenue to the fence line that now we have. There was a mom, who instructed me that her daughter was so afraid of legislation enforcement that she was afraid that she was going to die. And she or he requested me if I’d converse to her. I walked as much as that fence line with all of my workers again behind me. And I instructed that younger woman that I like her. And we’re right here to serve you. We’re right here to assist.
One of many issues that I bear in mind vividly was the protesters chanting, “I don’t see no riot right here, why are you in riot gear?” And on the time, we had been all dressed with helmets, and all the gear that you just see in these movies, and that modified my perspective. As a result of at the moment, the protesters had been usually peaceable, however we continued to decorate up. I instructed our workers, “We’re not going to place that on. All people take their helmet off. Until there’s something that we all know is a particular risk to us. We’re going to be out right here. We’re going to attend in our autos, however we’re going to take heed to them and we’re not going to be dressed up and all this riot gear as a result of they’re peacefully protesting.”
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Are there any particular modifications you intend to make in your company on account of the protests?
General, simply that humanity is one thing that all of us must have in legislation enforcement. Think about if the officers that had been concerned in George Floyd would have led with their humanity. It’s about what can we in uniform. We have to look within the mirror about who we’re and what we do.
So that you’re speaking a few sort of a broader tradition change, however nothing completely particular.
We’ve had numerous modifications over the previous few years. And we’re forward of numerous companies however we nonetheless have numerous work to do, to essentially get to the place the place the neighborhood actually believes that the Denver Sheriff’s Division is an company that they imagine in. There are some neighborhood members that clearly help us. However there are those who nonetheless have some questions on who we’re, what we do. And we would like everybody to imagine that we’re a division that understands that we serve the individuals.


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