DENVER — Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson plans to resign in the coming weeks, but the terms of her departure are still under negotiation, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the situation.
Three high-ranking sources, who agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity because of their ties to Wilson and her pending resignation, confirmed to Denver7 Investigates Wednesday the situation remains fluid but that pressure on the police chief, who was named to lead the department in August 2020, has been mounting for weeks amid concerns about her performance.
Ryan Luby, a spokesperson for the city of Aurora, said Wednesday evening the city would not discuss “external, speculative conversations on any personnel matters.”
“We remain focused on comprehensive public safety changes that are in the best interests of our community and employees,” Luby said in an email. “There have been and continue to be frequent discussions between city leadership and public safety leadership about progress on those changes.”
Luby added Thursday: “As we previously stated, we are focused on comprehensive public safety changes that are in the best interests of our community and employees.”
Wilson was named interim chief in Dec. 2019. She lost the interim tag eight months later in Aug. 2020.
Wilson was the first woman to hold the post in Aurora and has been with the department for 25 years.
The death of Elijah McClain and the drunk driving scandal involving officer Nathan Meier had already cost Aurora the public trust by the time she took over.
But her tenure did not get any easier. The same month she was named permanent chief, police detained and handcuffed a Black woman and several children because they believed they were in a stolen vehicle. Their vehicle was an SUV. Police should have been looking for a motorcycle. Wilson later apologized.
Last February, Wilson fired three police officers for posing for photos that mocked McClain's death. Later, Colorado's attorney general would announce charges against the paramedics and officers who detained McClain and shot him up with ketamine.
The Aurora Police Department, Aurora Fire Rescue and the Colorado Attorney General’s Office entered into a consent decree in November to fix multiple issues identified within the two departments.
The decree will give the city up to two years to change operations and training for the police and fire departments when it comes to bias, use of force and documentation of stops. It also aims to change the city’s hiring practices within the two departments to make them more inclusive and reflective of the city’s diversity.
Aurora City Council approved a contract for more than $4.5 million, effectively hiring IntegrAssure to provide independent oversight of the city’s consent decree.
Wilson and the Aurora city manager said in Feb. 2021 that the city would pursue hiring an independent monitor to oversee transparency, discipline and accountability within the police department after an independent investigation and report into McClain’s death, but the establishment of that division is still in the works.
All the while, it appeared Wilson was losing the confidence of her officers. In October, the Aurora Fraternal Order of Police passed a vote of no confidence 442-16.
Since Jan. 2020, the department has lost 176 officers.
Fewer officers mean more are being asked to work overtime to make up for the staffing shortage.
Internal records obtained by Denver7 Investigates show Aurora officers logged 719 hours of overtime from late June to the end of July 2021.
Wilson replaced Nick Metz, who retired from the department after 4 ½ years as chief in September 2019 to pursue a Master’s degree in counseling first responders.
The attorney for Wilson said Thursday Wilson does not plan to resign or retire from the department, but acknowledged that the city manager did request a meeting to discuss an exit strategy with the chief earlier this week.
Denver7 Investigates' sources maintained Thursday that whether Wilson resigns, retires, or is fired, she will not continue as police chief moving forward.