By Jennifer Turner
On Jan. 10, Beth McCann took over as Denver’s new District Attorney and is the first woman in the city’s history to hold the position. She replaced Mitch Morrissey, who served for 12 years.
McCann decisively defeated Chief Deputy District Attorney Helen Morgan and received 74 percent of the vote. Morgan, who ran as an independent, has been invited to stay at the DA’s office.
McCann swearing in
Sworn in by Second Judicial District Court Chief Judge Michael Martinez, Beth McCann became Denver's first female District Attorney. Photo by Sara Hertwig.
U.S. Representative and Chief Minority Whip, Diana DeGette, has known McCann for 25 years and said, “I appreciate Beth’s sharp mind and commitment to strengthening our community. She is just the right person to take on the steep challenges facing Denver’s criminal justice system.”
A top priority for McCann is juvenile justice. She wants to expand the restorative justice concept, which is a system that focuses on the rehabilitation of offenders through reconciliation with victims and the community at large.
In order to help facilitate change, McCann plans to make structural alterations within the Juvenile Prosecution Division. Currently, the deputy and chief deputy positions are rotating. Her plan is to make the chief position at least a five-year commitment, and possibly permanent, depending on the person. She is also looking at having deputies in the juvenile division who chose to be there instead of rotating people through.
“I would rather have people in juvenile court who are committed to the concept of trying to change juvenile behavior," McCann said. "That way, they become familiar with all the programs and alternatives available, and develop an expertise. They will also, unfortunately, get to know the kids that keep coming back. This will be a more effective way to focus on helping kids make better choices.”
McCann’s legal career began in the District Attorney’s office over 30 years ago. From 1981-1983, she served as Chief Deputy District Attorney. In 1983, she left to join the Denver law firm of Cooper & Kelly for eight years and made partner in 1985. Other credentials include being Mayor Wellington Webb’s Manager of Safety and serving as the Deputy Attorney General in charge of Civil Litigation and Employment Law in the Colorado Attorney General’s Office. For the past eight years, McCann represented House District 8, which covers central and northeast Denver.
Former Republican House Speaker Frank McNulty served with McCann in the Colorado State House. He said, “Beth is definitely a liberal Democrat, but she was great to work with and always a straight shooter, whether she had good or bad news.”
Another issue that the new DA will undoubtedly face scrutiny over is how allegations of police misconduct and excessive force are handled. While the police department has direct purview, McCann controls how her office looks at allegations of police misconduct and whether or not to file charges.
“This is clearly an issue that troubles me and I think that all of us in our system need to be watching it. I have recently met with Police Chief White and he is doing a number of things to help address it. The Denver Police Department has come out with a new draft of policy that emphasizes only using force when necessary. Just because it’s legal, doesn’t mean it’s necessary.”
Another priority of McCann’s is to build trust between law enforcement and the community, and have an open line of communication to the DA’s office. Her deputies will be attending neighborhood meetings in their communities so they hear what people are saying. McCann also wants the deputies to explain what they do and how the DA’s office functions. She plans to attend a number of community advisor panels and meetings herself to stay in touch with the concerns of citizens.
Republican Mark Waller, who is currently an El Paso County Commissioner, served in the state legislature with McCann for six years and recalls being freshmen representatives together. Waller found commonality with McCann because they are both former prosecutors.
“She is one of the smartest and most conscientious people I know.," Waller said. "We had many differences of opinion, but Beth was willing to reach across the aisle and is the kind of person you can agree to disagree with.”
When asked about McCann’s ability to deliver on her vision for the DA’s office, including improving the juvenile justice system, and building trust between law enforcement and the community, Waller said, “Those issues are bigger than all of us. It will take more than one person to solve them, but Beth is the type of visionary leader that will help us move in the right direction.”