DENVER - A fight inside Denver's highest levels of government could affect your safety.
Denver Police Chief Robert White wants to replace 15 highly-trained crime-lab officers with civilians before the end of 2013.
Opponents include Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey, who says a year is too fast to make this transition and calls the move "reckless."
The Denver Police Protective Association says citizens will lose 240 years of police experience in the proposed move.
CHIEF ROBERT WHITE'S PROPOSAL
"We need to be effective and efficient, and we need to look for opportunities to put sworn police officers back in the street," White said in an interview with 9NEWS Crime and Justice Reporter Anastasiya Bolton. "It's part of the a larger picture. While it is 13 or so people in the crime lab, there [are] 40 to 50 positions over the course of next year that we're going to civilianize."
The proposed migration of the positions would be done by 2014, DPD says. Those positions include statistical researcher, court liaison and volunteer coordinator - among others. The new Denver crime lab has 12 CSI investigators and three supervisors, who White wants to replace with civilians by October 2013. He says the process will be in phases: Some officers in April, some in July and the rest in October.
"This is something that is done across the nation," White said. "There are civilian technicians in many departments. They're well-trained, well-certified; they do a phenomenal job. Their safety is not compromised, and for what it's worth, it's even a cost-saver."
White said replacing sworn CSI officers at the crime lab with civilians will save the taxpayers $353,112 a year. In total, including positions served by civilians outside of the crime lab, the department could save $617,486.70.
"If it doesn't require a gun and a badge, really, should police be doing it?" White said. "Especially if we are doing everything we can to get more resources in those communities. We have an authorized strength of well over 1400 [officers], we're down to 1,377 police officers. We've got to get officers out on the street."
White cites a position paper done by the Major Cities Chiefs Association Forensic Science Committee in 2012. The authors, including Greggory Laberge - the man who runs Denver's crime lab - say the committee recommends that crime labs are staffed with civilians "when practicable."
"I can assure you when we do replace those sworn officers, and we do hire civilians to replace them, they will be very qualified, very equipped and very prepared to do the job," White said.
DENVER DISTRICT ATTORNEY SAYS THE PROPOSAL'S TIMELINE IS "RECKLESS"
According to the Denver Police Protective Association, the 15 officers who work in the Denver crime lab have a total of 241 years of police experience.
Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey says the city and the citizens should not lose that.
"Civilianizing the crime-scene unit at the speed they're talking about doing, I believe, is reckless," Morrissey said. "I believe it's a reckless disregard for the public safety of Denver. You just cannot replace the level of expertise they have within a year."
Morrissey says he is speaking out because the crime lab affects his office and the people who elected him.
"Obviously, I don't run the police department, and I'm not trying to run the police department. The only time I would ever raise an issue like this is when it impacts my office's ability to hold violent criminals accountable for violent acts like murder and rape," Morrissey said. "It would be like the Denver Broncos getting rid of the entire offense because they didn't win the playoff game and saving money by hiring rookies to do that. For a few years, you're gonna have some serious problems because the level of play is going to go way down."
Morrissey says one way to handle the situation is to leave the CSI unit as it is in many major cities, including New York, Miami and Los Angeles. All those cities have sworn officers doing CSI work.
But if the change has to be done, he suggests civilians start with property crimes while letting sworn detectives do more serious crimes to teach the civilians the job.
"We need more police officers on the street. Where do you get them?" Morrissey said. "Well, we have a top flight, internationally-accredited unit of police officers. Should we put them back on the street? Should we not? So, there is a political push to get them back on the streets, but there are forensic standards that you have to live by. There are forensic standards [that people] in this town hold them to that we have to continue to meet."
DENVER POLICE PROTECTIVE ASSOCIATION SENDS A LETTER TO THE MAYOR
"If we're talking about 15 people being put back on the street, that's not enough to make a dent in this city of 600,000," Nick Rogers, president of the Denver Police Protective Association said. "[There are] almost 1400 police officers on the Denver Police Department. It's not going to change the lives of anybody on the street. What will change the lives of the citizens in the City and County of Denver is putting civilians out there to process these crime scenes. We can't let this happen."
The PPA wrote a letter to Mayor Michael Hancock opposing replacing the crime lab officers with civilians and suggesting if it has to be done, replacing people when they retire and keeping half the staff of sworn officers.
"The people in the crime lab right now, the detectives we have, they've been cops their entire adult life. You can't replace that experience. If they can pass that on to the new people, we could probably live with that," Rogers said. "It's a slap in the face to the citizens of Denver when your house is burglarized, when you're a victim of a crime. Who do you want showing up to process that crime scene? A 25-year veteran of the Denver Police Department with all the years and years of experience or a 22-year-old out of some junior college who went to school for crime lab tech. They don't have any experience. It's not going to work."
9NEWS asked the mayor to weigh in, but his office declined saying the chief was the person to speak on the issue. It's worth pointing out, however, that the chief reports to the mayor.
STATEMENT FROM THE MANAGER OF SAFETY ALEX J. MARTINEZ
"Chief Robert White is accountable to me for changes he makes in the Denver Police Department to enhance public safety and improve relationships with the people of Denver. While I have not been contacted by the District Attorney about the civilianization of the Crime Lab, or the transition plan, I have the greatest confidence in the ability of this Chief to implement changes consistent with national standards and high performance. Chief White has 40 years of experience, the necessary vision, and the proven ability to make these changes. Running the Police Department is the job of the Chief of Police and he deserves our support when unfairly attacked."