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Aurora's first independent monitor report shows policing progress and needed changes

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Posted at 4:07 PM, Aug 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-02 19:34:40-04

AURORA, Colo. – The first report on Aurora's public safety since the city entered into a consent decree with Colorado Attorney General's Office shows progress and areas that need improvement.

In September 2021, after Colorado’s Attorney General Phil Weiser found the Aurora Police Department engaged in racially biased policing, the state and city leaders agreed to a consent decree, a legal agreement and settlement that included a plan for Aurora to improve public safety practices.

Jeff Schlanger is the independent consent decree monitor for Aurora. His agency, IntegrAssure, will study Aurora’s progress toward reaching consent decree goals over the next five years.

“I think the most important takeaway is the degree of cooperation that we have gotten from the city,” Schlanger said. “They have been extremely cooperative…there has been a recognition of a need for change.”

But Schlanger said there are still a few areas where there is room for improvement.

“So there were two areas in the consent decree, that we called out in the report as yellow or cautionary, revolving around the creation of policy, and training,” Schlanger said.

Schlanger said the city’s use of force review board also needs to improve investigative practices.

“This is a very difficult and complex issue,” Maisha Fields, Community Advisory Council member said.

The Community Advisory Council was created to fulfill the consent decree requirement to engage the community.

“Our team is really focused on holding the police department and the fire department accountable, and making sure that all the data, everything that we're hearing is transparent to the community,” Fields said.

Fields said she has also witnessed the need for several improvements.

“We're making incremental steps. I mean, we are just starting. The Aurora police department was required to document stops. That data is very important because it shows there are certain individuals being targeted. Unfortunately, the City of Aurora was never documenting that. So now we're in the very elementary stages of enforcing a state law requirement that's been on the books for a while,” Fields said. “The other thing is training, making sure officers have the appropriate training that they need. Unfortunately, we are not where we need to be.”

But Fields said in other areas, community members are already seeing positive changes.

“I’m optimistic that community now has a voice, and people are being heard. So what I'm hearing in the community, and what I've even experienced myself with people reaching out to me as a member of the advisory council, is that people are saying, 'when I file a complaint against the Aurora Police Department, it's being taken seriously.' Officers are being removed from duty and being taken off the streets because they have a history of too much force, unnecessary force, unreasonable force and that is comforting,” Fields said.

In response to the IntegrAssure’s report, APD issued a statement the following statement:

This first report of twelve highlights Aurora's commitment to resolving issues identified in the consent decree. Aurora city management and Chief Oates have repeatedly affirmed the department's commitment to cooperate with the Consent Decree Monitor Team. Chief Oates believes the consent decree provides the path to restore the agency's reputation and a roadmap to success. We will continue to collaborate with our dedicated police officers, the Consent Decree Monitor Team, and community stakeholders to build upon the progress already made and to provide the public safety service our community expects and deserves.

Like every other municipality across the country, Aurora faces a competitive hiring market for new and lateral recruits. The Consent Decree Monitor Team has not begun its work on recruiting. However, conversations are ongoing. The Aurora Police Department is dedicated to recruiting the most qualified applicants for police and civilian positions. With the City Council’s support, city management has authorized a more competitive compensation package and incentives to attract more experienced lateral police officers. We have also increased our recruiting efforts and are ramping up our online recruiting presence.

As part of our retention efforts, police leadership has acted on feedback from officers by increasing scenario-based training and working to provide clarity regarding legislative changes. By streamlining technology, modifying staffing schedules, and clarifying roles, we hope to maximize effectiveness where we have staff shortages. In addition, the recently approved contract makes Aurora police one of the highest paid in the region.

IntegrAssure will issue a total of four reports this year. From the 2nd through the 5th year of the review process, the agency will issue two reports a year, for a total of 12 reports over 5 years.

The Community Advisory Council is hosting a town hall on the report and will include a conversation between IntegrAssure, the Colorado Attorney General’s office, and Aurora city leaders on August 9th at 6:30 p.m. at the Beck Recreation Center. Schlanger and Fields said members of the public can attend and are encouraged to also take part in the conversation.