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Retired Denver police commander Les Perry honored with Trailblazer Award

Commander Les Perry started a tutorial program to help lift new recruits and diversify the department's ranks.

DENVER — The Denver Police Department and the Denver Police Museum honored Retired Denver Police Commander Les Perry as this year’s African American Trailblazer Award winner. 

The award recognizes Black officers who were the first to achieve a milestone in their careers. Perry was appointed Commander of District 5 in northeast Denver in 2012. He was the first Black man to hold the position of commander in the department.

“I know that I’m standing on the shoulders of trailblazers before me that allow me to be who I am today,” Perry said. “We want to teach everyone in the organization the value of diversity, equity and inclusion, and I was proud to be part of that.”

Credit: Byron Reed
Les Perry started his career with the Denver Police Department in 1987.

Perry started his career in law enforcement in 1982 with the city of Aurora. He later moved to the city of Golden for two years and landed with the Denver Police Department in January 1987.

“When I came to the city of Denver in 1987, in my class of 36 there were three of us were Black,” Perry said. “I struggled with it because you’re looking for a support system…so you deal with the ignorant thinking.”

Credit: Denver Police Museum

During his 30-plus year career with DPD, he worked in all six districts in a variety of assignments in the patrol division and the criminal investigation division. 

His earlier patrol assignments include being a neighborhood police officer, being a Gang Task Force Officer and teaching law-related education at Montbello High School. His supervisor and command assignments included detective supervisor, internal affairs investigator and pattern crimes command officer. He led hostage negotiation teams, managed the bomb squad and was an early president of the Black Police Officers Organization (BPO). 

But it was his efforts to recruit more diverse applicants that touched so many in the department. He started a tutorial class for new recruits that helped them with the civil service testing process.

“They said, ‘We’re having a problem getting qualified Black applicants to test because it’s not popular in the Denver community to be in law enforcement,” Perry said. “So, I created, under the umbrella of the BPO, a tutorial program for entry-level as well as promotional level.”

He said the goal was to increase diversity in the ranks. 

According to the department, the first Black woman officer, Carole C. Hogue, joined the department in 1972. She was accepted into the academy after she and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit charging the department with racial and sexual discrimination. 

Their claim resulted in “The Hogue Decree,” which required the Denver Civil Service Commission and the department to hire one female officer for every four male officers, and 20% of officers had to be people of color.

Credit: Byron Reed
Retired Denver Police Department Commander Les Perry was the first Black man appointed to the position of commander in the department.

“It was important to have that diversity in and amongst our ranks, because we don’t want to be embarrassed and sued again in a federal lawsuit,” Perry said. “When I think about diversity, I don’t just think race and gender, but by understanding why it’s important to have diversity in race and gender, now you have diversity in thought.”

Perry believes having diversity in thought allows you to create a policy and allows you to lead a community to understand. It’s the philosophy behind his mission of lifting others around you.

“Once you come on the job, I’m going to call on you to help the next person,” Perry said. “By helping them, you’re helping yourself. By improving them, you’re improving yourself.”

Credit: Byron Reed

Perry has received more than 100 awards and certificates, including the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (N.O.B.L.E.) Prize and the Martin Luther King Humanitarian Award presented by the governor. He retired from DPD in 2019, but his legacy remains with the department.

“Every step in your career, you lifted as you climbed by mentoring, coaching, teaching, recruiting, motivating others,” Perry said. “It’s been a long journey. I started out when I was 21 years old and I’m 60-something now and it’s been a long journey, but I’ve enjoyed every step of the way.”

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