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Hancock to nominate in-house candidate to lead Denver’s public safety department

Mayor Michael Hancock’s nominee to replace Denver’s outgoing public safety director is a safety department official who led a new effort to ticket unhoused people living in tents in the city and previously worked in the sheriff department’s internal affairs bureau.

Armando Saldate, Hancock’s nominee, said he would focus on rising crime, homelessness and drug overdoses as the city’s top safety official. If the council approves Saldate’s nomination, he would be tasked with leading a wing of city government that includes the city’s police, fire and sheriff’s departments as well as 911 emergency dispatch services.

“I recognize the immense challenges that our agencies face each and every day,” he said Wednesday at a news conference. “Coupled with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and rising crime, the issues our public safety personnel are grappling with require a collaborative, conservative effort to address.”

“Whether you’re an abolitionist or you want to get tough on crime, I invite you all to help by sharing your ideas and being a partner to our department,” he said.

Outgoing director Murphy Robinson announced last month he would be stepping down as the city’s executive director of public safety after being appointed in Jan. 2020. Robinson’s predecessor, Troy Riggs, also held the position for two years before leaving.

Saldate is currently working as an assistant deputy in Robinson’s office where he ran the department’s Street Enforcement Team, a group of civilians given the power to issue citations for violations of municipal codes like the camping ban, trespassing and being in a closed park.

Saldate called for “tangible changes” that will help people experiencing homelessness find opportunities and resources.

“Homelessness is arguably the most visible concern facing Denver today,” he said.

Saldate also addressed the rise in some crimes in Denver and said that the city can’t arrest its way out of the problem. More social and health resources are needed to stop crime before it happens, he said. Police are doing the best they can, he said.

“That’s the million-dollar question, what we can do differently,” Saldate said.

Saldate said he supported harm reduction efforts underway in Denver to help those who use drugs. Saldate said he could not give an opinion when asked if he supported the establishment of a supervised drug use site, where people can use drugs without fear of arrest under the supervision of people who can intervene if they overdose. He said the possibility is being discussed but said it wasn’t one single person or department’s place to decide.

Saldate previously worked as the performance improvement manager for the Denver Department of Public Safety, according to a biography of him posted on the city’s website.

Some of Saldate’s previous work with the safety department and sheriff’s office brought him in contact with the city’s Citizen Oversight Board, the volunteer body dedicated to addressing community concerns about policing and incarceration in Denver.

Board Chair Julia Richman said Saldate has already reached out after being nominated, something she takes as a positive sign from a man who may only hold the position for a short time until a new mayor is elected in Denver next year.

“We’ve always known him to be a good collaborator and reform-minded,” Richman said. “We were pleased with his selection.”

Saldate appears to already have the support of some City Council members.

“I believe that Armando is dedicated to improving how our Departments of Safety operate with an eye on equity and anti-racist approaches,” City Council President Stacie Gilmore said in a text message Wednesday. “His leadership during this time will enable the community and City Council to work in partnership to support what is working and to begin to change those policies that no longer provide for everyone’s public safety.”

Saldate was also one of the safety department’s representatives on the community-led Reimagine Policing and Public Safety Task Force. The group formed after massive protests in Denver in 2020 following the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, but Robinson pulled all safety department staff from the discussion group last year after a disagreement.

Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca is already a strong opponent of Saldate’s candidacy. On Wednesday, she said he was partly responsible for Robinson’s decision to pull out of the task force because Saldate was feeding his boss negative information about the process. She called Saldate’s response to the city’s homelessness situation “muddled and failed.”

“This is one of the worst choices the mayor could have made to replace former Director Robinson,” CdeBaca said in a statement. “He has broken trust with (the) community and with our office at a time when we need trust and strong, collaborative relationships with the Safety Department the most.”

Prior to joining the Department of Public Safety administration, Saldate worked for the Denver Sheriff Department as an investigator and manager of the internal affairs bureau, according to the city biography.

Saldate worked as a detective with the Phoenix Police Department for 20 years before moving to Denver. He was also a deputized federal task force officer with the FBI’s Phoenix Division.