Cec Mascarenas remembers going to a Denver Broncos football game with friend Stella Madrid when they ran into a rookie cop directing traffic. When Madrid pointed out that the officer was her son, Paul Pazen, Mascarenas took note of his smile and easy manner in dealing with people. According to Mascarenas, those qualities have served him well as decades later, he assumes the position of Chief of Police for the City and County of Denver.
Pazen was sworn in on Monday, July 9th by Denver County Court Presiding Judge, Theresa Spahn, in a ceremony at the City and County Building. In his remarks, Pazen gave credit to the community and colleagues, “I stand on the shoulders of those who have come before me, and this is truly not about an accomplishment that I’ve made, it’s an accomplishment for our community.”
The move to promote from within was applauded by the rank and file in the DPD, especially after a tumultuous six-year stint of Chief Robert White who took the department’s top job after serving in Louisville and with the express mission of putting into place substantial reforms. In a sign that the department and community supported his appointment, a reception for Pazen was held after his swearing-in at the Police Protective Association (PPA) – the union that comprises members of the department. The PPA building is located in north Denver, the neighborhood where Pazen grew up with single mother, Stella Madrid, a 26-year veteran with the Denver Housing Authority.
Pazen takes the reins at a time when trust needs to be rebuilt with the Denver community, especially communities of color. Pazen will be expected to create a new system for collecting demographic data in those communities. One of his first tasks will be to implement new ‘use of force’ policies in the wake of record settlements and resident injury and death. Over $1 million in settlement fees resulted from use of force by Officer Rick Nixon, involved in the beating of African American motorist Alex Landau in 2009 and another incident involving multiple women at the Denver Diner that same year. A 2015 settlement for Jessica Hernandez, a Denver teen in a stolen car shot and killed by Denver police, cost taxpayers another million dollars.
Pazen says there is no better time to assume the position. “We can learn from our experience, mitigate our missteps and rebuild relationships and trust.” For Pazen, community partnership is most important, “If we don’t have the trust of the community, we have nothing. If we can prove and demonstrate service and fair treatment, then they’ll support us.”
Mascarenas notes that Pazen is up to the challenge and connected to people throughout Denver, “He really cares about the community and the police officers in the department. He will take the department to new heights. He deserves this.”
City of Denver employee, Jamie Torres was on the selection committee that recommended Pazen for the commander position he assumed six years ago. “What I liked most about Pazen was that it didn’t take prodding or convincing for him to try new initiatives. As commander he created Spanish-language information and reached out to the immigrant population,” she continued, “With him there is a trust factor. He is authentic and believes in transparency.”
Stapleton Foundation Vice President Angie Malpiede was also on the committee recommending Pazen as commander. She called his “… deep respect for community unique for a young cop,” and praised his, “Poise and ability to listen to questions and answer carefully.”
At the PPA reception attended by hundreds of community members and police officers, no one in the room was more proud than Pazen’s mother, Stella Madrid. “He competed against top candidates and stayed true to what he could do for the community… He rose through the ranks with the established goal of becoming chief and he learned policies and procedures to make that possible.” She underscored his connection to community, “He has already met with the Chief or Aurora, and has relationships in neighborhoods, with RNOs [registered neighborhood organizations].” Both she and Pazen call his becoming Chief “A lifelong dream.”
Pazen has been District 1 Commander since 2012, a position for which he interviewed under a new system put into place by outgoing Chief, Robert White. Pazen is a military veteran, having served as a U.S. Marine in the Gulf war. He is a 24-year veteran of the police department. He is a former member of DPD’s SWAT team and Internal Affairs departments. Pazen grew up in north Denver and is a graduate of North High School. He holds a bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership from Colorado State University and is a 2018 graduate of the Latino Leadership Institute. Pazen is the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Servicios de la Raza and its longest serving board member.
In his application cover letter, Pazen wrote, “I’ve seen firsthand the positive results that come from a department promoting officer engagement and involvement in civic, educational and community improvement programs. The mutual respect acquired for these interactions promote open, honest dialogue, and have increased partnerships between the police department and our diverse community.” Pazen listed as personal references Latino Leadership CEO, Joelle Martinez, real estate executive Gene Lucero, former City Councilwoman Elbra Wedgeworth, a pastor and a rabbi.
Pazen was selected from a group of five finalists to lead the Denver Police Department. The other four finalists for the position of Chief of Police were: Commanders Michael Calo, Joe Montoya, and Ron Saunier and Deputy Chief David Quiñones. The seventeen-person selection committee made a recommendation to Mayor Michael Hancock who made the appointment. Members of the committee included Councilmembers Kendra Black and Christopher Herndon, representatives from the Denver Police Department and community activists Gerardo Lopez from Homies Unidos, Daniel Ramos, the Executive Director of One Colorado (a LGBTQ non-profit) and Nicole Melaku from the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition.
Pazen makes history as only the second Latino appointed to the position in city history. The first was Tom Sanchez, appointed by Mayor Wellington Webb in August of 1998. Sanchez served as Denver Chief of Police for 18 months.