David Michaud, former Denver police chief, dies at 80

Even though his rank rarely required him to respond to calls, former Denver police Chief David Michaud always wore his radio — just in case.

If he was nearby when a call came in, he would respond himself and sometimes provided back-up for his officers. He believed a police officer’s foremost job was to protect the public regardless of an officer’s rank, Denver police Chief Paul Pazen said.

“That’s one of the aspects that made Michaud special,” Pazen said. “He never lost sight of the fact that we’re all police officers, it doesn’t matter rank or assignment.”

Michaud died Saturday at the age of 80. He spent the first 36 years of his career in Colorado criminal justice putting criminals in prison as a police officer and the last three years deciding whether they should be released as the head of Colorado’s parole board. Mayor Micheal Hancock called Michaud “a great, dedicated public servant.”

After serving in the U.S. Marine Corps, Michaud entered law enforcement in 1963 as a police officer in Fort Lupton. He joined the Denver Police Department in 1967 and rose to the highest rank in the department over a 31-year career that included assignments in homicide, internal affairs, traffic, the gang unit and property crimes.

For four years in the early 1970s, Michaud and Ari Zavaras worked as detectives together. Zavaras, who later became Michaud’s predecessor as chief and the director of the state’s Department of Corrections, said the two men cemented their 50-year friendship during their time as detectives.

Michaud was a dogged investigator who worked with deep compassion for everyone he met and even as chief was known to give his personal phone number to people who might need him, including gang members, Zavaras said. Michaud worked more than 600 homicides as a detective, according to The Denver Post archives.

“If I were involved in a life of crime, the one person I wouldn’t want chasing me is him,” Zavaras said.

When Zavaras stepped down as chief, Denver Mayor Wellington Webb appointed Michaud to take the position in 1992. Over the next six years, Michaud led the department through several high-profile events, including Pope John Paul II‘s visit to Denver, the Oklahoma City bombing trials and the Summit of Eight, when global leaders convened in the city.

Michaud retired from the department in 1998 but was appointed head of the Colorado Parole Board in 2007. For three years he reviewed prisoners’ applications for release and during his tenure parole release rates went from 13% to about 20%, according to previous reporting by The Denver Post. Michaud retired from that position in 2010.

Even in retirement, he served as a mentor to Denver police chiefs, including Pazen.

Michaud was chief when Pazen entered the training academy in 1995. The two had a long conversation after Michaud learned that Pazen was a Marine Corps veteran as well.

“The chief of police generally isn’t engaging in a long conversation with a police recruit, but he did,” Pazen said.

As chief, Pazen has regularly called Michaud for advice and emulates him by wearing his radio while working. Pazen said he spoke with the former chief several times this year while dealing with the effects of the pandemic as well as mass protests of racism and police brutality.

“He brought a lot to this department, he brought a lot to this city,” Pazen said. “I’ll miss my conversations with him.”

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