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NEWS > 30 January 2006

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 Article sourced from

Rocky Mountain News - Denver,
30 January 2006


Hispanic officers seeking chan

Group hopes to improve workplace, promotions, hiring

Starting a typical day at work, Denver Detective Rufino Trujillo sifted through his desk drawer to find a pen. What he found instead jolted him back in his seat.
It was a makeshift bomb, specifically a flashlight wrapped in duct tape fashioned to look like an explosive device.

The incident came after the detective, head of the Denver Police Latino Organization, met with department brass to voice concerns that more minorities weren't being assigned to special units.

To him, the ominous device was meant to convey the message: "Don't rock the boat."

But instead of quieting the employees' group, the incident added incentive for it to look for help outside the department and city administration.

The organization turned to the National Latino Peace Officers Association. Now, instead of having the support of 100 department co-workers, the group has 30,000 officers standing behind it.

The officers said they hope the backing of the national organization will give it better resources in times of conflict.

Locally, they plan to tackle minority hiring, hostility in the workplace and promotion policies.

"These are the same problems across the nation," national president Felipe Ortiz said.

The local group started putting on pressure in July when it fired off letters to high-ranking police officials, arguing that not enough minorities were being hired or promoted.

The criticism was not well received. The director of the Civil Service Commission characterized the accusations as false. He pointed to statistics, dating back to January 2004, showing that each police academy class, except one, reached a federal mandate of 14.25 percent Hispanic recruits.

To the group, however, that still wasn't enough.

They pointed to census data that suggest the department is out of sync with the community it patrols.

Census figures for 2004, the most recent available, showed that about 32 percent of the population of Denver was Hispanic.

According to 2006 data, 22.2 percent of police department employees, including civilians who work there, are Hispanic.

"In order for this department to have complete integrity, there needs to be diversity and parity with the community," Trujillo said.

In addition to hiring, the organization hopes to see minority officers playing a bigger role in special units, including HIDTA (High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas, the Drug Enforcement Administration task force and Metro SWAT, all of which are made up mainly of white officers.

They also say the minority officers who have been promoted to supervisory roles are often pushed into jobs that keep them in the office.

"We need role models out there" interacting with the community, said Leonard Mares, the organization's vice president. "We're not asking for any more than anyone else, but we're not settling for anything less."

One of the issues that rankles the group most is promotions.

An example they point to is Lt. Jimmy Martinez, who has made the captain's list twice. During the last promotions go-round in 2004, Martinez was left at the top with no nod from the chief.

Frustrated, he tested again in 2005, earning the No. 1 spot on the new list. But Martinez's hopes were again dashed when he was passed over for promotion.

Standing in the way of his reaching the rank of captain, co-workers say, is a 2003 incident at Rise nightclub.

Martinez was working off-duty security when a club security guard asked a belligerent patron to leave, according to police records. Martinez and others said the 23-year-old man, a foot taller than him, threw punches and made threats.

Martinez pulled out a department-issued leather strap that encased steel weights and swung it at the man. He told investigators he was attempting to hit the patron in the shoulder. Instead, he hit the man in the face. A second blow landed on the back of his head.

Martinez says he didn't mean to hit the man in the head. He contends the patron couldn't be subdued and flailed as Martinez tried to restrain him.

The veteran officer, whose record includes more than 200 commendations, was disciplined. He appealed the 10-day punishment and it was reduced to five days.

"I have worked very hard to advance my career with the Denver Police Department but continue to be denied an opportunity to serve the community in the capacity of captain," Martinez said through his lawyer, Leonard Martinez. The two are not related.

"There appears to be a glass ceiling."

On Jan. 13, the department officially announced its most recent promotions. At least one lieutenant promoted to captain had been investigated by internal affairs following a hostile work environment complaints by a minority officer. The case was reviewed by the department and Independent Monitor's Office. The outcome could not be determined.

Of the 25 officers promoted to captain, lieutenant and sergeant, only three are Latino, Trujillo said.

"The Denver Police Department's decision and reasoning behind such decisions raises significant concerns regarding the promotion process and the city's policies," attorney Leonard Martinez, who represents Martinez, said of his client's situation.

Chief Gerry Whitman would not comment on the group's complaints and Manager of Safety Al LaCabe could not be reached.

Last week, Whitman and Independent Monitor Richard Rosenthal met with minority officers' groups, including Latinos, blacks and gays. The nearly 90-minute meeting focused on how the department can handle bias and hostile work environment complaints better.

Rosenthal would not disclose details of the meeting. However, he said hostile work environment complaints filed after Aug. 1, 2005, will be investigated by his office.

"I certainly haven't seen a pattern," he said.
 

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