DENVER – The city of Aurora and Colorado Attorney General will enter into a consent decree of up to five years to try to fix a host of issues involving policies, training, record keeping and hiring practices within the city police and fire departments that were identified in a September report following a 14-month investigation.
Attorney General Phil Weiser and Aurora’s city manager and police and fire chiefs announced the consent decree at a news conference Tuesday afternoon.
“This consent decree will elevate policing and improve public safety in the City of Aurora. The hard work ahead will be to build trust in law enforcement, operate with a spirit of continuous improvement, and protect public safety using legal and just means,” Weiser said in a written statement. “Working together, we can protect public safety and civil rights by working with law enforcement to improve how it operates in Aurora.”
The draft decree unveiled Wednesday will be filed in Arapahoe County District Court. It will have to first be approved by the Aurora City Council.
As written, it would give the city up to two years to change operations and training for the Aurora Police Department and Aurora Fire Rescue in three areas: addressing bias in policing, use of force, and documentation of stops.
Once Aurora completes those training milestones, the consent decree monitor who will be hired to oversee the decree will confirm the city is in compliance for up to three years by monitoring the departments and measuring the success of the changes, the decree states. They city has already started a search process to pick a consent decree monitor, and the decree says both parties expect that person to be “retained shortly after the court enters the decree” – by the end of the year, according to the city.
If the training on any of the specific prongs is finished ahead of the two-year window, the three-year compliance window would open up on that specific facet of the agreement, according to the document.
The decree also aims to change the city’s hiring practices for the police and fire departments to make them more inclusive and reflective of the city’s diversity. And the city will have to reduce racial disparities in who police officers engage, arrest, and use force against – and make those changes in “measurable ways” that are also transparent to the public, according to the draft document.
The decree says that Aurora will have to develop new policies and training for officers surrounding stopping people, tracking and documenting use-of-force incidents and creating a culture that prioritizes de-escalation, making changes to the city’s Force Review Board, making policy changes surrounding different types of stops and crisis intervention and the administration of ketamine if Aurora ever decides to use it again. However, Aurora Fire Rescue Chief Fernando Gray said there are no plans for Aurora to resume using ketamine.
It would also revamp the Civil Service Commission, which reporting by Denver7 Investigates found has most of the power when it comes to hiring new public safety employees.
The decree says that Aurora will “assume a much more active role” in the hiring of candidates based off lists provided by the Civil Service Commission and will have the final say on which candidates are hired – something city leaders have called for in the wake of the reports.
The decree also stipulates that the Civil Service Commission update its rules and regulations to “substantially” reduce the time it takes for disciplinary cases to move from their filing to a resolution and to move to a more appellate style of review. The results should be put on a website, the decree states.
The city will also hire an outside expert with expertise in recruiting and hiring a qualified and diverse public safety workforce and to change policies to better identify trends and patterns involving the conduct of officers, including officers who repeatedly expose the city to civil liability or who have multiple complaints filed against them.
The decree also states that the city will have to develop a new data collection system for how officers interact with members of the community.
According to the document, the deadlines that will have to be met are as follows:
For the first year of the decree, the monitor will have to provide updates at least quarterly, and for the remainder of the decree, at least twice a year. But the decree also says that the monitor should spend most of its time working on the action items rather than working on writing updates.
The monitor will have full access to city documents and personnel, and the city will be encouraged to self-report any violations of the decree. It says that the court will be able to consider whether Aurora self-reports any violations when evaluating any consequences for violating the decree. In the event of a disagreement regarding compliance, the court will decide if the parties cannot come to an agreement themselves.
”The parties intend that Aurora’s demonstrated commitment to continuous improvement throughout the term of this decree be the primary focus and the standard used for evaluating Aurora’s ‘substantial compliance’ with this Consent Decree,” the decree states.
The results of the patterns and practices investigation conducted by the Colorado Department of law were released in September and found the Aurora Police Department uses excessive force and racially biased police practices. It also found the department violates state and federal laws as part of its patterns and practices.
Weiser said at the time the Department of Law and city would have 60 days to reach an agreement on the consent decree to make the changes included in the draft announced on Tuesday. The report found a “consistent pattern of illegal behavior” at “many levels of the department” and that the department’s oversight practices for officers’ behavior led to the violation of Aurora citizens’ civil rights. It was one of several investigations into the city and its public safety departments that followed the death of Elijah McClain.
Aurora City Manager Jim Twombly, Police Chief Vanessa Wilson and Fire Rescue Chief Fernando Gray all thanked Weiser and his office for working with the city on coming to agreement on the consent decree and pledged to make changes, follow the decree and be transparent.
“The AGs Office heard your cry, did the investigation of this agency,” Wilson said to city of Aurora residents. “…We’re not going to shy away from reform. … This is going to take time. We have a timeline we need to roll out. But we’re committed … we’ll be transparent and allow you to know what’s going on.”
The independent monitor will either be one individual or a team, Twombly said. They could be paid hourly with a capped amount or an annual fixed price, but Twombly said the cost could top $200,000.
“The last two years have been painful for the entire community and that’s why I want our efforts to have long-lasting success,” Twombly said in a statement. “I thank the City Council, Chiefs Wilson and Gray, community leaders and activists, police officers, firefighters, and other city employees who continue to help. It will take all of us to make Aurora the community we all need it and want it to be for many years to come.”