The Aurora Police Department must completely rethink its broken disciplinary process and strengthen its out-of-date policies governing the use of force to improve community trust, according to a sweeping review of the department by outside investigators.
The recommendations are some of the 47 made by 21CP Solutions in a 158-page report on the department’s policies and practices presented to city leadership Monday. The city commissioned the investigation in August 2020 in the wake of renewed local and international outrage about the death of Elijah McClain at the hands of Aurora officers.
The investigators — a group that included former police leaders and civil rights experts — did not investigate McClain’s death or any other specific incident, but instead conducted an overarching evaluation of the department’s use-of-force policies, training, structure and community engagement, among other topics. The report’s authors spoke with 220 officers, city leaders and community members about the department.
“We do not have all of the answers,” the authors wrote. “For that matter, it is unlikely that any one of Aurora’s stakeholders alone has all of the answers. Instead, the purpose of this report is to identify methods by which that the Aurora community, APD, elected officials and other stakeholders might promote ever-more-inclusive, equitable, effective and just public safety in Aurora tomorrow.”
One of the report’s most forceful recommendations is to completely overhaul the department’s disciplinary process to make it faster, more streamlined and more transparent.
“APD officers, third-party reviewers and many community members all believe that the current system for addressing potential officer misconduct in Aurora is broken, cumbersome and ineffective in promoting a culture of accountability with the department,” the report states.
The consultants found that a small number of officers in the department, which has 744 officers when fully staffed, account for a disproportionate number of misconduct investigations.
Thirty-five officers accounted for 40% of misconduct investigations between 2017 and 2020, the report states. Twelve officers were responsible for 24% of all misconduct allegations in that timeframe.
The system police administrators use to decide discipline is “byzantine and convoluted” and causes distrust within the department’s ranks and in the community. Between 2017 and 2020, it took an average of 201 days — nearly seven months — for a disciplinary case to close. Officers under investigation for months were left wondering about the outcome and people who made complaints saw long periods of silence as the department failing to act or, worse, covering up misbehavior, the report states.
The department also needs to create standard timelines for releasing information about critical incidents, the report found. The department’s methods for handling the release of information about serious misconduct cases have varied significantly over the past three years.
The analysts found similar patterns when investigating which officers use force. Twenty-seven officers — about 3% of the force — accounted for a quarter of all uses of force in 2020, both legitimate and excessive.
The analysis also found that force was used disproportionately against Black men, as previously reported by The Denver Post. Black men make up 9% of Aurora’s population but were the subject of 29% of use-of-force incidents in 2020, 21CP Solutions found.
The consultants urged the Aurora Police Department to strengthen and streamline its use-of-force policies. Much of the department’s policy is a reprinting of state statute, according to the report.
“The department’s policies fail to address a host of critical concepts, lagging far behind peers and best practices,” the consultants wrote. “Even more critically, the deferral to Colorado state statutes suggests to officers that the city of Aurora and its police department expect them to meet nothing more than generic, minimum standards. Officers are left to feel on their own to determine how to comply with the broad parameters of state law in the context of the particular concerns and needs of the Aurora community.”
Aurora police need to require officers to attempt de-escalation and more explicitly state that force must be necessary and proportional the report states.
The experts also encouraged police and city leaders to continue pursuing alternate methods to respond to non-emergency situations, like minor car crashes. The group’s analysis of calls for service found that the vast majority of the department’s calls had nothing to do with violent crime.
The analysis found that only 2.4% of calls for service were related to violent crime. Another 6.6% dealt with property crime and 8.9% were connected to “society crimes,” like drug use, drunk driving and disorderly conduct.
The report’s authors commended the Aurora Police Department for trying new ways to respond to calls, like a program that sends mental health workers instead of police and a civilian traffic unit. They encouraged the city to continue to work with community members to find areas where police might not be the most appropriate or effective response to a problem.
Other recommendations from the report include:
- Diversifying the department’s command, which is overwhelmingly white and male
- Giving preference to recruits who live in Aurora and improving recruitment efforts
- Collecting better data on stops and searches, including the demographics of subjects
- Making the Community Policing Task Force a permanent organization
The Aurora City Council was scheduled to discuss the report during a study session Monday evening. A spokesman for the Aurora Police Department denied a request to interview Chief Vanessa Wilson about the report until after the presentation.
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