To sit down with former Golden Police chief Bill Kilpatrick is to sit down with local law enforcement history.
The tall, soft-spoken son of a U.S. Army doctor jokes that he would have been a doctor, too — it was just that science that got in the way.
“I grew up thinking I wanted to be a doctor like he was,” Kilpatrick said. “And I was a pretty good student, and I actually entered college as a pre-med major.”
But after struggling with the requisite hard sciences, the Kentucky-born military brat realized he might not be cut out to be a physician.
Kilpatrick said growing up, he was a fan of early cop shows like Adam-12 and Dragnet.
While attending the University of Southern California in the early 1970s, Kilpatrick met a local police officer.
He was intrigued and decided to change his major to criminal justice.
At that time, only a handful of four-year universities offered such degrees.
Kilpatrick attended Northeastern University in Boston.
He said the school appealed to him because of its cooperative education program that permitted students to attend class and work in a job directly tied to their major.
“So I got to work with the precursor to the DEA in New York City, doing intelligence gathering on drug dealers, mostly international cartels, and the like,” Kilpatrick said.
Kilpatrick decided he wanted to be a cop.
He tested for a position with Los Angeles Police Department in the summer of 1971 and scheduled to attend police academy in May of 1973.
But a slight curvature in Kilpatrick’s spin — scoliosis — excluded him.
“Back in those days, police departments had pretty significant entry-level requirements,” he said, citing exapmles of vision and height.
Kilpatrick moved to Denver in August of 1975 to work on a gradute degree in public administration.
He continued to test and apply for police officer jobs.
“I tested for a number of places and wasn’t particularly successful,” he said. “I’d get way into the process and then get to the medical exam.
After the Denver Police Department rejected him for his spinal condition, the 25-year-old Kilpatrick decided to go to law school.
He enrolled at the University of Denver School of Law.
“I thought the medical stuff was going to keep me out,” he said. “So I decided I’d go to law school and be a prosecutor if I couldn’t be a cop.”
While attending law school, Kilpatrick worked multiple jobs like many other students.
He worked as mall security at the SouthGlenn Mall and worked at a bar.
“I actually enjoyed that job,” he said. “It was fun meeting people, and you always had cash in your pocket.”
But one day, while working at the mall, Kilpatrick bumped into a friend whose soon-to-be father-in-law was the division chief for the Englewood Police Department.
He told Kilpatrick the division was hiring and that he should consider applying.
Kilpatrick waffled based on his medical diagnosis.
“I can’t guarantee anything,” said the man, “but we use our own doctor, and you know, what have you got to lose?”
Kilpatrick obliged and joined the Englewood Police Department in October of 1979.
While in Englewood, he served as a patrol officer, a field training officer, and a detective; secretly, Kilpatrick wanted to be an FBI agent.
He got his wish in the early 1980s when he was selected to attend the FBI academy.
“But I was only there for three days,” he admitted. “What am I doing here? Why am I doing this? I wanna be chief of police—I like local policing.”
So Kilpatrick called his “dad,” then- Englewood Chief of Police Bob Homes, and asked if he could come back.
“The next morning, I told the FBI that this wasn’t the best for me, and I wanted to return to Colorado,” Kilpatric said. “And by 4 p.m. I was on an airplane back to Denver, and I went back to work the following week.”
Kilpatrick was happy to be back in Colorado and back with the police department he loved.
At that time, Englewood was home to Cinderella City, the largest mall west of the Mississippi River. It, as well as the city, enjoyed great success until a downturn in the economy.
“Englewood was very dependent on sales tax revenue,” said Kilpatrick. “And when sales tax was good, the city was good—and when sales tax was down, the city was down.”
Kilpatrick said things began to worsen, and Englewood suffered significant financial setbacks.
While the city never laid off any police officers, hiring freezes meant vacant positions were not filled.
When I started in 1975, there was a police chief, three division chiefs, five lieutenants, and ten sergeants,” Kilpatric recalled. “When I left, the police chief was also the fire chief, the three division chiefs were down to two, the five lieutenants were down to one, and they didn’t fill my position for four to six years.”
Kilpatrick knew opportunities to become chief would be very limited in Englewood.
The Golden road to chief
Kilpatrick had to leave Englewood.
In 1988, the City of Golden hired a new police chief, Russ Cook, from the Lakewood Police Department.
GPD announced the department was looking for a command-level officer, and Kilpatrick applied.
But things got complicated.
Kilpatrick was scheduled to interview for the position in Golden on a Monday morning.
On Saturday night before his interview, Kilpatrick’s phone rang.
“I had just gone to be and got a call about a guy who had killed someone and was barricaded in a duplex in Englewood, and on Sunday at 7 p.m., I was still there.”
Kilpatrick called Cook that night and said he would not be able to do the interview.
Cook understood and rescheduled the interview.
Kilpatrick joined the Golden Police Department in June of 1989, thinking that Cook would be there for six or seven years before he’d get a shot at being chief.
The six or seven years wound up being closer to 14 years.
When Cook successfully ran for Jefferson County Sheriff, Kilpatrick got his chance.
In December of 2002, Kilpatrick became Golden’s Chief of Police, a title that he would hold for the next 20 years.
Kilpatrick has been in policing for almost 43 years and has seen many changes and evolutions in law enforcement.
The Golden Police Department had 23-24 sworn officers when he joined.
He said the current number is closer to 52.
Kilpatrick said he felt his job was to build on the work done by his predecessor, Russ Cook.
And that included carrying on his philosophy of “hiring the best people who have good hearts, and good minds, and who want to be doing the right thing for the right reasons.”
He acknowledges that even good people can make mistakes.
“But one of the things I’ve been pretty steadfast in over the years is there’s a few things that will get you in trouble in Golden,”he said. “One of those is lying. If you’re to us, you’re not going to have a job. This whole job is based on integrity, and if we can’t have faith in your ability to tell the truth, regardless of how big or small, then you’re not going to work here.”
Kilpatrick says others include stealing and the use of excessive force.
“One of the things I’m not very proud of is that we’ve had two or three instances of excessive force over my time here with Golden,” he said. “While we’ve had over the years many a number of complaints about excessive force, the vast majority of those were found to be legitimate under the circumstances.”
Kilpatrick points out that while he is not proud of those instances, he is pleased that the instances of excessive force were not repoted by the victims but rather by other officers.
While he clarified that none of the cases were “beat-down, Rodney King type cases, it took a tremendous amount of courage for those officers to speak out.
Kilpatrick said that after a thorough investigation revealed that excessive force had been used, the offending officers were terminated.
Kilpatrick says it’s unfortunate the use of force happens more frequently than it did in the past.
“I think a fair amount of that is where we find ourselves in the world today,” he said. “There’s less respect for authority.”
For this reason, Kilpatrick says it’s essential the community get to know its police officers.
“I will tell you that (GPD) officers are always walking up and contacting people, not necessarily for any reason other than to have a chat,” he said. “We’ve gotten much busier over the years, so we have to be committed to those opportunities to get out park, walk around and talk to people.”
He said a big part of policing is gaining compliance, while the lesser amount is enforcement. However, creating trust, transparency and legitimacy is necessary for people to have failth that offciers are present and operating for the right reasons—and talking with the public is an important start.
“If we want to have the respect of our community, there needs to be transparency,” he said. “They need to know who we are, and they need to know that they can walk up to a cop and not going to be harassed and will be treated with the dignity and the respect they deserve.”
How public opinion has changed
Kilpatrick remembers the Vietnam conflict and the turmoil surrounding social justice issues across the nation in the 1960s and ‘70s.
“I am bi-racial,” Kilpatrick said. “My father was African American, and my mother was Italian; most people don’t know that.”
He says officers need to be more focused on the guardianship role of their job. When he started as a police officer, he said there was more of a warrior mentality.
“You’re out there to kick ass and take names and all this touchy-feely stuff is for the social workers,” he said. “But lots of the issues we’re dealing with are people with mental health issues, people with substance abuse issues, or dealing with both of those at the same time.”
He said responding to all of those things with an enforcement mentality is not the answer.
There’s a dichotomy out there in the world today,” he said, adding that tragedies such as the deaths of Michael Browen and George Floyd have changed the narrative.
“I think the biggest change since I started policing is the cell phone and the ability of citizens to video what police are doing,” Kilpatric surmised. “I think it has led to revelations that didn’t exist—and certainly the adoption of body cameras; of which the vast majority of our cops were supportive of because they add to transparency. Sometimes it’s gonna show what we did wasn’t good—other times, it was completely legitimate.”
Passing the baton
Kilpatrick said wrapping up his 43-year career was difficult.
“It was a pretty emotional month once I decided that I was doing this,” he said. “I loved being a police officer, and I’ve loved working for the City of Golden, but I’ve been a cop for 43 years. This part of my life is over.”
The opportunity to pass the baton to incoming Chief of Police Joe Harvey and promote the new executive staff was important to Kilpatrick because it was the manifestation of a long-time success plan.
“But I just can’t believe it’s over,” he said. “This has been the most amazing experience of my life. Part of me didn’t want it to end, but I also knew it was time for a change.”
Kilpatrick said the change still hasn’t sunk in.
“It was was certainly so much a part of my life, but on the other hand, I’m excited for the department.”