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Zornio: Denver police have a long way to go in restoring community trust

Denver residents deserve answers, ownership, restitution and clear actions on how to ensure such shootings never happen again

Much is still unknown about the negligent mass shooting by Denver police last weekend, but one thing is for certain: city and police leadership are failing to regain community trust by appearing to obscure the truth.

Trish Zornio (Photo by Holly Hursley Photography)

No one could have predicted what happened last Sunday. While enjoying a night out with friends and family, six innocent bystanders were injured after being shot with bullets or hit with shrapnel from Denver police engagements near the Larimer Beer Hall. While none of the bystanders appear to have life-threatening injuries, several victims still require extensive medical intervention and recovery time.

But as horrific as the shootings were on their own, the problems created by the Denver Police Department in response to the shootings — which remain unclear as to why they even happened at all — have been equally concerning.

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Confusion begins at the scene itself. In the aftermath of the mass shooting, for hours the DPD apparently wasn’t sure how many people had been injured. They stated people had been transported to hospitals on their own, and that they had to discern between people from this shooting and people in other shootings — a telling statement in and of itself. 

But this response appears to raise more questions than it answers. 

With multiple officers on the scene, and more officers in the area at large, why was there no coordinated response by police to get people help? Was DPD unaware they had shot innocent bystanders, and that some were bleeding and applying tourniquets in the streets? Did officers not fully sweep the area to assess damages? Why would victims have to seek their own care if DPD had shot them and were nearby?

The DPD then refused to answer questions by journalists or provide further updates within any reasonable timeframe. They refused to provide body camera footage, and the city’s Department of Public Safety openly denied multiple news outlet requests to obtain the video from both the body cams and the HALO cameras that were said to be close to the scene.

Then the DPD refused to release the names of those placed on administrative leave while defending their actions at a news conference, adding another layer of perceived lack of transparency and empathy for those hurt.

One local journalist also tweeted that two of the three body cams had been turned off at the time of the firing, which feels awfully convenient, and DPD leadership neglected to offer any real insight as to why three officers would respond with seven rounds at reasonably close range without a warning when no shots had been fired at them. 

Adding to the layers of distrust, at least two of the victims have now gone on record with journalists to say that while in the hospital, the DPD neglected to tell them it was the police who had shot them. This left them to find out while watching the news.

Meanwhile, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock is merely pleading for patience from residents, instead of standing up for those injured and demanding answers and transparency. 

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

Certainly, more details will unfold in the coming weeks to months, and some questions may find answers. But for now it seems abundantly clear that the duty to protect and serve was not upheld. This includes, but is not limited to, the response to the mass shooting by leadership.

The Denver community deserves answers, ownership, victim restitution and clear actions on how to ensure such events from ever happening again — and anyone in a position of leadership seeking to excuse, defend or hide what happened should be removed from their position immediately.


Trish Zornio is a scientist, lecturer and writer who has worked at some of the nation’s top universities and hospitals. She’s an avid rock climber and was a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate in Colorado.


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