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Aurora's plan to give bonuses to police officer receives mixed reactions

Aurora police car
Posted at 5:46 PM, Dec 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-22 19:48:33-05

AURORA, Colo. — Aurora City Council this week approved $8,000 retention bonuses for officers in an effort to keep more law enforcement personnel from leaving the department.

Since last November, the Aurora Police Department has lost 114 members — 57 to resignations, 40 to retirements, seven to medical retirements, five to terminations, four to transfers and one death.

During a meeting Monday, city council members said they were worried about public safety with all of the department departures and have heard more could be on the way out.

“People are talking about leaving soon," said Councilman Steve Sundberg. "There’s some deep issues with our police department."

Data shows officers are leaving the department at a much higher rate than in years past. Eighty-seven left in 2020, while only 58 left in 2019 and 59 left in 2018. The average salary for an APD officer is $91,246.

City council voted 6-4 Monday to use pandemic relief funds that had been allocated to the city to fund the bonuses. With 720 uniformed officers currently, the retention bonuses will cost nearly $6 million of the city’s pandemic relief funds.

Aurora was awarded a total of $65.4 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds, half of which has been received by the city so far. The pandemic funds provided to local governments offer substantial flexibility in how the money can be spent, according to Aurora city officials.

“The Department of the Treasury issued Rule 2021-10283 discussing several examples of lawfully permitted uses of the funds allocated by the US Congress," a city spokesperson told Denver7 in an email. "Compensation to first responders who worked through the COVID-19 pandemic is within the permitted uses of these funds."

These retention bonuses are on top of the $2,000 in scheduled bonuses for civil service employees this year, which is being provided from the regular city budget.

While the majority of city council agreed with the additional bonuses, some like Crystal Murillo, Juan Marcano and Alison Coombs raised concerns with the idea.

Murillo said the bonuses send mixed messages since the department is going through major changes and a consent decree in the wake of several high profile incidents.

“I don’t know what kind of message we be sending if we approve this,” she said.

Council members also raised concerns about whether the money should be tied to performance or compliance with the consent decree. The resolution for retention bonuses has no requirements for officers to commit to staying around for a certain amount of time nor any requirements for job performance.

“I want to see some metrics put into this so that we can ensure that we retain the best our department has to offer,” Marcano said.

Marcano also raised concerns about what type of message this sends to dispatchers and the fire department, since he said both departments are also struggling to retain employees.

Denver7 checked with Aurora Fire Rescue and found out the department currently has 424 employees. It lost 15 over the past year — 12 to resignations and three to retirements. This is on par with the previous three years, according to fire officials. The average salary for AFD is $84,500.

However, retention bonuses are not always effective in keeping employees, according to Lynn Hoffman, a professor of human resources and entrepreneurship at Metropolitan State University of Denver.

“Salary is a piece, but it’s not the only piece in retention and motivation for employees,” Hoffman said. “Those people who are motivated by money, yes, they may stay. Will they stay after two, three or four months after the last incentive? It’s going to be really mixed.”

Along with salary, Hoffman says employees are often concerned with how they are being treated, whether there are opportunities to learn and grow or advance, whether they are trusted, etc. He’s not convinced the retention bonuses will help keep officers around.

“An organization that has trouble retaining people, motivation is only one piece," Hoffman said. "They need to figure out what are the issues that are creating this lack of retention. Until they fix those systemic issues, money is not going to help them much.”

Meanwhile, community activists who have been working on police reforms say they are unhappy with the bonuses because they say it sends the wrong message.

“You're giving $8,000 to $2,000 bonuses, $10,000 basically, to officers who don't want to change and want to keep things as they are, you know,” said Lindsay Minter.

Minter was on the Aurora Community Police Task Force and said she wishes the money would have gone to things like youth violence prevention or mental health services instead of to the police.

She said she's also not happy about the fact that the task force’s recommendations have not been implemented and there are no stipulations with the bonuses.

“They're not listening to us at all," she said. "They basically thrown all of our work to, you know, the garbage disposal."

For Minter, she said the latest actions prove her work is not done.

During the city council meeting, members who supported the measure acknowledged that this was not the only strategy needed to focus on retention.

“This isn’t a comprehensive strategy, but it is a first step towards that comprehensive strategy," said Dustin Zvonek. "This isn’t about politics, this is about public safety. It will at least ensure that we slow the bleeding.”

The officers will receive $4,000 in April 2022 and the additional $4,000 in October.