DENVER — Casey Simpson is a trailblazer. He was the first African-American to be appointed to the position of Division Chief for the Denver Police Department.
“I don’t know if I felt any personal accomplishment by me blazing a trail because it had to be blazed eventually,” Simpson said.
Simpson started his career in 1956 and was one of nine black officers in the department at that time.
“I was shocked when I faced a lot of issues that I did face,” Simpson said. “It took a while to get adjusted to living as a police officer.”
Simpson said he was often not recognized as an officer because of the color of his skin.
“One time I had a call when I was a patrolman at a house on Capitol Hill and the owner of the house came up to me and said, ‘Who are you? Are you from the post office?' ” Simpson said.
“Thankfully I didn’t have to deal with some of the inequality issues and some of the racism that existed back in the ’50s and ’60s,” said current DPD Division Chief of Patrol Ron Thomas, who is also African-American. “I think it’s even more impressive that he was able to overcome the competitiveness of the job as well as some of those obstacles that were in his way."
Simpson's career path took him from sergeant, to lieutenant, to captain, and finally to Division Chief in 1983 until he retired in 1988. Now at age 93, his path opened the door for other black officers like Armedia Gordon—the department's first African American female to be appointed Division Chief. A move that made an impact on Denver Police Sergeant Carla Havard.
“When I first came on, there weren’t many people who looked like me in this department and certainly not very many females as well,” Havard said. “She made me feel like I was valued and that everything that I was doing and everything that I was saying was very important.”
Gordon was named Division Chief in 1992, where she mentored young officers like Thomas along the way.
“I spent quite a bit of time talking to her and absorbing some of the leadership qualities that she exhibited,” Thomas said. “I thought she was very relatable and I think what I admired most was that she commanded the respect of everybody.”
Gordon was respected as the department’s Division Chief of Investigations until her retirement in 1998.
“We have over 1500 police officers and there are just three Division Chiefs so it’s a competitive position,” Thomas said. “At a time when there weren’t many black officers or female officers, she was able to gain the respect of everyone that she worked around.”
DPD currently has 141 black officers in the department. That makes up about 10 percent of their total staff. Twenty-five of those officers are female. The department said they're making a concerted effort to hire more people of color.
“You don’t only have a responsibility, you have a commitment to continue that and to ensure that all those efforts and trials and tribulations…they weren’t in vain,” Havard said.
“I was just happy to make it and open up the whole department where if you study and work hard to get the position you can get it,” Simpson said.
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