Trial by Fire for Robert White

Newly minted Denver Police Chief Robert White seems to be enjoying a literal trial by fire in his first week on the job. Last night, Occupy Denver activists in Civic Center Park set ablaze several temporary structures they constructed there in protest of their eviction by the Denver Police.

This morning, White joined Mayor Michael Hancock in a press conference on the matter. From Westword’s Kelsey Whipple:

Last night’s Occupy Denver eviction is unlikely to be the last one in the near future. In a statement on the subject, Mayor Michael Hancock supported the city’s actions and cited the now commonly repeated concerns of public safety and access. Accompanied by new Police Chief Robert White, Hancock confirmed plans to follow the same steps in the future. “If it goes up today, it comes down today,” White says.

Hancock began the press conference by narrating a summary of last night’s events: “After several attempts to communicate with protesters,” he said, the Denver Police Department made the decision to move in and remove the group’s handmade forts — defined by the city as ‘encumbrances’ — in person. In all, last night’s eviction marked a tense relationship between police and protesters, who set fire to some of their forts as officers closed in on the encampment. The wait to evict them “went on a day or two longer than it probably should have,” Hancock says.

After White met with a group of ten Occupy Denver representatives yesterday afternoon, he said he could tell demonstrators had no intention of taking down the tarp-covered shacks themselves.

“It was pretty obvious they were going to keep those encumbrances, but it’s our duty to enforce those ordinances,” White says. Although several media outlets reported police aggression against both protesters and press, White described the behavior of the officers as “calm and patient.” For the time being, the DPD plans to station police officers in the park to guard against further city ordinance violations. “We will have a presence in the park as long as it’s necessary.”

Hancock appointed White, in part, to “restore public trust” in the Denver Police Department. Indeed, many are turning to White to reform what the Denver newspaper’s editorial board called a “culture of police brutality.”

Despite the fires, it seems as though White – and by extension Mayor Hancock – is doing an admirable job of dealing with the Mile High City’s Occupy movement. That’s good, because he has no other choice: the first occasion of any police violence will immediately raise uncomfortable questions about White’s ability to reform DPD.  

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