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The Benefits of Law Enforcement Advocates within the Denver Police Department

By Steve Cooper, Division Chief (Retired), Denver, Colorado, Police Department; Lilas Rajaee, Director, Treatment Accountability for Safer Communities and Treatment Court Programs, Denver, Colorado, Juvenile Probation Department; and Julie Madden Rodriguez, Drug Endangered Children’s Liaison, Denver, Colorado, District Attorney’s Office

Law enforcement advocates pose with the children of clients.

n 2003, the Denver, Colorado, Police Department partnered with the Denver Juvenile and Family Justice Treatment Accountability for Safer Communities (DJFJ TASC), Colorado Judicial Branch, to create the Law Enforcement Advocate (LEA) program, with the goal of improving citizens’ perceptions of law enforcement, increasing officer satisfaction, and reducing criminal recidivism among high-risk populations. The initial LEA program included specially trained officers who were assigned to work with extremely high-risk juvenile offenders living in neighborhoods known for high levels of calls for service by law enforcement. The officers were trained in motivational interviewing and in the stages of change techniques designed to promote positive behavior change for clients. In addition to conducting neighborhood- and home-based accountability checks, the officers were charged with forming supportive relationships with project participants and their families that would hopefully continue beyond justice system involvement. Interviews with law enforcement advocates indicated a high level of satisfaction related to making a positive difference within the lives of youth, along with improving public safety. Program outcome data over a course of three years markedly supported all goals of the LEA program, including decreased levels of criminal recidivism and substance abuse, reduced calls for service, and improved perceptions of the police. In addition, exit interviews concluded that project participants’ attitudes and trust toward the police significantly and positively shifted between baseline and post-program interviews. Based on the successful results of the initial LEA partnership, the program was expanded to additional projects within the DJFJ TASC and has since seen equally impressive results.

Program Background

The Denver Police Department has led several initiatives related to decreasing juvenile and adult crime rates, improving competencies for at-risk families, and increasing positive community partnerships. Various problem-oriented policing (POP) efforts have included enhanced prosecution, focus patrols, neighborhood police officer community meetings, and increased one-to-one contacts between neighborhood police officers and at-risk youth. While each initiative has demonstrated some success, the initiatives concurrently have created significant barriers. Enhanced prosecution has contributed to an increased number of juveniles being sentenced as adults. Although a small percentage of defendants are sentenced to prison, the great majority of youth are allowed to remain in their communities and continue criminal activity. Focus patrols have increased knowledge related to gang activity and offender whereabouts; however, the effort has been labor intensive and is often viewed as a racial-profiling technique. Community meetings have been useful as a means of increasing neighborhood involvement; however, most meetings focus on problem solving with regard to specific criminal activity versus innovative and solution-focused methods of crime prevention and ongoing accountability for juvenile offenders. One-to-one contacts between police officers and atrisk youth have contributed to positive relationships, but officers simply do not have the resources available to provide long-lasting support for the at-risk youth population. Finally, none of these initiatives addresses the fragmentation and duplication of services that occurs among different systems working with the juvenile and adult offender populations.

Research for methods to address these issues indicates that the most promising approach to community policing is increasing citizens’ perception of police legitimacy to prevent crime.1 Several studies have demonstrated that there is a strong correlation between citizens’ perceived legitimacy of police and their willingness to obey the law.2 It has been determined that legitimacy is measured by citizen evaluations of how police have treated them in previous encounters.

Also contributing to the reduction of citizen fear of police are door-to-door visits and the empathic responsiveness of police officers who treat offenders respectfully and simply take the time to listen to the offender’s side of the story. Studies have found that police can improve public opinion by increasing their informal contacts with citizens. These informal contacts have a positive impact on job approval ratings even when factors associated with lower approval ratings (for example, residents’ perceptions that their neighborhoods were crime ridden, dangerous, and disorderly) are present.3 Various national examples of projects that have demonstrated promise in enhancing the image and the legitimacy of police—and in reducing crime—in communities include many of the approaches that were used to develop the LEA program. They include the following:

  • An emphasis on a multidisciplinary approach to the management of crime prevention and early intervention programs, such as drug courts, sets a high premium on effective and systematic communication among various justice agencies.4
  • Law enforcement officers play a positive role by supporting parental authority and improving sanctions on children who engage in negative behaviors.5
  • Police share with the community the responsibility for monitoring offenders among them.6
  • Police partner with the faith community and other community organizations to identify community social issues that diminish community quality of life and to work to link resources to those in need.7
  • Police interact with juvenile suspects and provide a source of both social control and support.8

Program Components

The DJFJ TASC offender programs, which are funded under federal leadership in Denver, became the starting point for a program that could improve the community’s perspective of the police, enhance police-community relations, reduce client recidivism, and prevent future crime.

The LEA program has provided law enforcement with the ability to implement the major concepts of POP in an innovative, research-driven, and cost-effective manner. The program allows police officers to integrate all POP elements associated with enhanced prosecution, focus patrols, community input, and face-to-face contacts. The major difference is that all components are implemented in a manner that interfaces directly with the court, the probation, the treatment, and the community systems from arrest to case termination. It was determined that this was an innovative approach to improve offender accountability and improve citizens’ perceptions of the police among a high-risk population that has traditionally had difficult relations with the police.

Led by the DJFJ TASC, a team approach is utilized that integrates communication and service among the judiciary, the probation, the law enforcement, and the treatment systems and the community at large. This collaboration supports law enforcement as a partner from the point of arrest through sentencing and supervision. Lieutenant Steve Addison, who has been with the LEA program since 2008, states that “Without DJFJ TASC coordinating communications, building relationships, and creating partnerships with the supporting agencies, the LEA program would be a one-dimensional program instead of the multisystemic approach that accomplishes the set goals of an improved community perspective of police, enhanced police-community relations, reduced client recidivism, and the prevention of future crime.”9 Officers are empowered as key decision makers and are provided a forum to support clients while maintaining accountability. Because of daily communication among team members, LEAs communicate outreach activity and recommendations to probation officers who in turn present information to community review boards, reducing the amount of time officers spend in court. LEAs are ensured that all reported criminal activity or noncompliance is dealt with immediately and are partners in deciding the nature of services and supervision afforded to youth. Police are able to form positive relationships with families through intensive advocacy, thus, improving community perceptions of law enforcement. Finally, through cooperation with the Colorado Supreme Court, trained community volunteer review boards (CRBs) have judicial authority to provide weekly court reviews and recommend sanctions or rewards based on client progress. The CRB members review recommendations made by the program teams and typically meet with each family once each month.

While probation and clinical staff supervise monitoring and treatment requirements, LEAs are responsible for developing positive relationships with youth and with families. Trusting relationships are formed through active community outreach between LEAs and families on issues related to problem solving, goal setting, mentoring, and resource acquisition. LEAs have been especially successful in working with the public school system to reenroll suspended students, accessing youth employment opportunities with local merchants, and resolving conflicts that may exist among youth and other patrol officers. LEA responsibilities also include child welfare checks, on-site drug testing, and timely arrests of noncompliant offenders.

Project Results and Expansion

Initial outcomes for juveniles involved with LEAs through the DJFJ TASC programs were excellent. As seen below, program data indicate that the use of LEAs positively impacted treatment and supervision compliance for clients while enrolled, client discharge status, and further arrests after program discharge. Table 1 describes the outcomes for clients receiving LEA services and a comparison group of similar clients who received comparable treatment and supervision but did not receive LEA services.

Table 1
Client OutcomeDJFJ TASC Clients Receiving LEA ServicesDJFJ TASC Comparison Group (NON-LEA Services)
Zero revocations while enrolled47 percent36 percent
Commitment while enrolled36 percent64 percent
Failure to appear or failure to comply while enrolled43 percent58 percent
Discharge status: commitment to detention facility30 percent53 percent
Discharge status: successful termination43 percent17 percent
Zero arrests since discharge93 percent87 percent

Based on the successful outcomes of LEAs with the juvenile population and in order to test the efficacy of the LEA model with adult offenders, the LEA program was piloted with adult offenders and young children through additional DJFJ TASC programs. It was determined that the Denver Police Department would provide culturally sensitive, strengths-based interventions via the LEA program to clients of all ages.

This project continues as an intense effort among the local police and the justice, the welfare, and the treatment systems. Collaborators include representatives from the Denver Juvenile Court, the Denver Police Department, the Denver Department of Human Services, the Denver District Attorney’s Office, the Denver Juvenile Probation Department, and the internationally renowned Kempe Foundation for the Prevention and Treatment of Child Abuse and Neglect. Roles and responsibilities of the law enforcement advocates have been clearly defined through a consensus-based decision-making process among the Denver Police Department, the Denver Juvenile Probation Department, and the treatment community.

Goals of the project include reducing police calls for service to high-profile addresses that have repeated police contact, lowering criminal recidivism and substance abuse, and increasing the early intervention services for drug-endangered children, all while improving officer job satisfaction. To analyze the effectiveness of the project, several analysis techniques have been employed with the hopes that the outcomes could conceivably contribute to the growing body of research on the effects of community policing and law enforcement legitimacy.

Evaluation Outcomes

Since 2006, both qualitative and quantitative outcomes indicate that that the LEA program has increased public safety, improved officer satisfaction, strengthened multidisciplinary partnerships, and improved perceptions of the police in the community. The existing evaluations of the DJFJ TASC programs include an examination of the use and the impact of LEAs on client behaviors. The evaluation examines both client- and system-level change brought about by the implementation of the project.

The evaluation collects client treatment and progress data specific to the nature and the intensity of treatment and supervision services provided to clients. Among these many treatment variables is the collection of data on LEA involvement. Each month, the client case managers record the involvement of LEAs on a client-by-client basis. Ongoing process evaluation through the use of staff surveys also examines attitudes about the nature and the frequency of treatment resources provided to clients by LEAs. These surveys, combined with the statistical impact of LEAs on quantitative client-level measures, provide a clear perspective of how well this innovative concept works with this target population.

In addition to client level data, LEA profile data are collected by project staff. For the juvenile client population, the typical LEA is 33 years old, with an age range of 30–40 years. Sixty percent are male, and 60 percent are Hispanic (20 percent are African American; 20 percent are Caucasian). The average LEA has worked in law enforcement for 10 years.

LEAs working with adult clients show slightly different characteristics. The average age is slightly older (38 years), with an age range of 30–40 years. Fifty percent are male. Eighty-six percent are Caucasian, and the remaining 14 percent are Hispanic. LEAs working with adults have an average of more than 15 years working in the justice system. Client relationships between both the youth and adult clients and LEAs typically last 12 months.

Finally, focus groups have provided us with important feedback. Through the use of these groups, we have determined that one-year benchmarks have demonstrated impressive results specifically related to key law enforcement areas including

  • a 95 percent improvement in communications between law enforcement and other systems working with adult and juvenile offenders,
  • a 60 percent improvement of youth and parent attitudes toward police, and
  • a 50 percent improvement of police perceptions toward the effectiveness of the justice system related to public safety.

A recent analysis of the relationship between LEAs and the DJFJ TASC clients discovered that LEAs use significantly improved outcomes. At admission to the project, all clients were rated either “poor” or “very poor” in the domains of social functioning, client attitudes, retention, and cooperation with treatment and recidivism. Table 2 describes these outcomes after the typical 12-month relationship between a client and an LEA.

Table 2
Most Recent Measures of Client Functioning *Active Adult ClientsActive Juvenile Clients
Positive relationship with family members74 percent56 percent
Able to handle life's problems71 percent48 percent
Able to respect and follow the law76 percent38 percent
Able to benefit from school or work71 percent27 percent
Able to remain AOD free71 percent50 percent
Not using alcohol81 percent56 percent
Not using other drugs71 percent44 percent
Not reoffending85 percent81 percent
* All clients rated "poor" or "very poor" at the time of admission and had been using drugs, alcohol, or both.

A survey conducted with key staff from the DJFJ TASC on the impact of the LEA program provided the results in Table 3, which again show a significant benefit to clients.

Table 3
Estimated Extent to which the Use of LEAa Has Impacted Clients (Staff Survey)Rankings (Significantly =3; Somewhat =2; Little = 1)
OutcomeRanking for Juvenile ClientsRanking for Adult Clients
Improved client discharge33
Improved client treatment and program engegement33
Improved client compliance with terms and conditions of treatment33
Improved client treatment outcomes33
Improved client longer-term behavioral outcomes such as reducing recidivism33
Increased trust toward the police33
Increased willingness to maintain a positive relationship with the police23
Increased general motivation to contribute positively to the community33

Outcomes are extremely positive as well toward the goals of reduced calls for service and improved perceptions of the police. Improved job satisfaction for police has been an additional positive outcome for the LEA officers. A recent LEA survey in which officers participated indicated that improved job satisfaction and improved morale were the results of their participation as LEAs (80 percent). When asked to rate overall job satisfaction as related to the LEA role, 67 percent of the officers responded that it was “high,” with the remaining 33 percent stating that it was neither high nor low. Support from other officers is common, with 100 percent of the LEAs reporting that police administration attitudes about their LEA participation was “supportive and encouraging.” Additionally, 100 percent of the LEAs stated that they would recommend being an LEA to other officers.

Making a positive difference in the clients’ and families’ lives was a recurrent theme present in the surveys. One officer stated the most satisfying aspects of the position were “making a difference in people’s lives; being a positive role model; and making the community safer by helping to reduce recidivism through mentoring, accountability, and improving relationships with the families and the police.”

Assigned LEAs report that they would be “much less likely” to request an assignment transfer because

  • they have significant authority related to program policy and procedures;
  • they feel that they positively impact high risk families;
  • the program integrates services among all public systems; and
  • public safety is enhanced as a result of the collaboration.

This overtime assignment typically has more officers apply for it than can be hired at any given time.


The LEA concept is a simple yet highly innovative way for the
Denver Police Department to accomplish several strategic plan objectives using modern police practice. The creation of the LEA position has assisted the department in

  • the development of effective strategies to reduce crime,
  • the development of strategies that gain compliance and reduce the risk of serious adult and youth offenders on probation,
  • problem solving with community and other justice agencies, and
  • enhancing the public image of the police.

In 2009 and in 2010, the LEA program was recognized as semifinalist for the IACP/Motorola Webber Seavey Award: Quality in Law Enforcement. This prestigious award identifies innovations in policing and is presented annually to agencies and departments worldwide in recognition for promoting a standard of excellence that exemplifies law enforcement’s contribution and dedication to the quality of life in local communities.

The LEA concept is easily replicable and adaptable within all urban and rural justice systems. Quality principles learned from this project include the power of collaboration, innovative practice, and continuity of the police officer function to include active involvement after the arrest and the conviction process. The Denver Police Department recognizes the development and the implementation of the LEA concept and encourages other law enforcement agencies to consider this model as a best practice in raising the quality and the effectiveness of law enforcement in their jurisdictions. ■


1Lawrence W. Sherman, “Evidence-Based Policing,” Ideas in American Policing (Washington, D.C.: Police Foundation, July 1998), (accessed March 6, 2012); and Lawrence W. Sherman, “Trust and Confidence in Criminal Justice,” NIJ Journal, no. 248 (2002), (accessed March 6, 2012).
2James E. Hawdon et al., “Policing Tactics and Perceptions of Police Legitimacy,” Police Quarterly 6 (December 2003): 469–491; and Catherine Gallagher et al., The Public Image of the Police: Final Report to The International Association of Chiefs of Police by The Administration of Justice Program (George Mason University, October 2001).
3Cheryl Maxson et al., Factors that Influence Public Opinion of the Police (Washington D.C.: National Institute of Justice, Research for Practice, June 2003), (accessed March 6, 2012).
4Kerry Murphy Healey, “Case Management in the Criminal Justice System,” Research in Action (National Institute of Justice, February 1999), (accessed March 6, 2012).
5Howard Davidson, “Policy Issue: Parental Accountability and Involvement” (paper presented at Delinquents Under 10—Targeting the Young Offender, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minn., September 30–October 2, 1999).
6Patrick Griffin, “Developing and Administering Accountability-Based Sanctions for Juveniles,” JAIBG Bulletin (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, September 1999), (accessed March 6, 2012).
7Mary Beth Gordon, Making the Match: Law Enforcement, the Faith Community, and the Value-Based Initiative (Washington, D.C.: Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, December 2003), (accessed March 6, 2012).
8Stephanie M. Myers, Police Encounters with Juvenile Suspects: Explaining the Use of Authority and Provision of Support (University of Albany, State University of New York, 2002).
9Lieutenant Steven Addison, Denver Police Department, in-person interview with the authors, August 10, 2010.

Please cite as:

Steve Cooper, Lilas Rajaee, and Julie Madden Rodriguez, "The Benefits of Law Enforcement Advocates within the Denver Police Department," The Police Chief 79 (May 2012): 52–57.

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From The Police Chief, vol. LXXIX, no. 5, May 2012. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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