Thornton’s new chief wants to strike a balance

In a time of tension around policing, Terrence Gordon talks about past experiences

Liam Adams
ladams@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 1/5/21

Terrence Gordon thinks there is a middle ground in what he sees as a black-and-white conversation about policing in America. Thornton appointed Gordon chief in early December after former Chief Randy …

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Thornton’s new chief wants to strike a balance

In a time of tension around policing, Terrence Gordon talks about past experiences

Posted

Terrence Gordon thinks there is a middle ground in what he sees as a black-and-white conversation about policing in America.

Thornton appointed Gordon chief in early December after former Chief Randy Nelson retired in June. Coming from Milwaukee, Gordon believes his array of experiences have equipped him for this pivotal moment in U.S. communities.

“There’s nobody who can say that I do not understand what’s going on in our society,” Gordon said. Before Gordon joined the force, a young relative of his died in police custody. Police shot other relatives of his. “I grew up disliking the police,” he said.

However, those negative experiences fueled his decision to join the police, where he could model a different behavior than what he saw. In 1995, he joined the Milwaukee Police Department. His career began as a patrol officer before moving on to investigations for 11 years. After that, he was captain, then director of the police academy, and then deputy commander of the administration bureau. After working in Milwaukee for 25 years, Thornton hired him.

Gordon values the time he spent in each role, especially as director of the police academy. There, he learned training is more about quality, not quantity. “It’s not necessarily a question of more training. It’s making sure your training, while it’s aligned with best practices, but also aligned with some inadequacies you’ve observed with serving your own community.”

Gordon hopes to instill the department with this message, and other best practices. While they are personal goals, he’s also starting at a time of extensive reform for police departments across Colorado. In June, Gov. Jared Polis signed state Senate Bill 217, or Enhance Law Enforcement Integrity, which establishes new procedures that departments must abide by.

Gordon said the law will present a series of logistical challenges, but that he’s supportive of the law’s overall intent. “Accountability, transparency, and responsiveness to the community, those are more than just buzz words to me,” he said.

At the same time, Gordon thinks members of the public have unfairly portrayed police officers. “No matter what they (officers) see on the news or hear at a protest or demonstration, it’s important to remind them that the majority of any community still supports their police department,” the chief said.

Gordon said the misconduct of a minority of officers shouldn’t represent all police. “Nobody wants those people gone more than us. But we are looking for balanced conversations and balanced discussions,” he said.

To best facilitate such discussions, the chief said he’s open to new ways of engaging with the community. One example is a community advisory board, which Northglenn City Council just voted to establish. Thornton City Council is scheduled to discuss establishing a police citizen panel at a Jan. 19 meeting, said city spokesperson Todd Barnes.

Whichever way policing in a community improves, Gordon wants people to realize, “We all have the same goals.”

He added, “We can be even more successful together than any of us could hope to be, trying to do it by ourselves. I truly do hope that.”

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