The independent monitor selected to oversee progress made by the City of Aurora in its policing practices held its first town hall on Tuesday, April 19.
IntegrAssure, a Florida-based consulting company, was selected on Feb. 14 by the city and the Colorado Attorney General to monitor progress to change racially biased policing practices identified after a 14-month investigation by the AG’s office. In November 2021, Aurora and the Colorado Attorney General entered into a consent decree to resolve the issues, part of which required the city to contract with a third-party monitor to provide regular updates to the public and court. The first public report by the monitor will be filed with the state court by July 15 and will be the first of 13 reports published through 2027.
The Aurora investigation came after a string of incidents that brought the city’s first responders into the national spotlight. Most notably, the 2019 death of 23-year-old Elijah McClain, who was restrained by police officers and sedated with ketamine, shone a light on departmental practices and how they impact the Aurora community.
Monitors, city officials, representatives from the Colorado Attorney General’s office and Aurora citizens spoke at the town hall, with officials laying out plans to enforce changes in policing practices and many citizens expressing frustration and concerns. The town hall was held in person at the Aurora Municipal Center with virtual attendance options and attracted a crowd of several dozen citizens.
The monitor is made up of IntegrAssure’s president and CEO Jeff Schlanger as the lead monitor, Erin Pilnyak as the deputy monitor and a team of nine experts with experience in law enforcement, monitoring, public policy and more.
Opening the meeting, Schlanger emphasized that IntegrAssure and the monitor team are independent parties to the consent decree. “We do not report to the city, we do not report to the attorney general,” Schlanger said. “Our primary job is to make certain that what the city agreed to do in terms of reforms are in fact carried out. We will always call things as we see them, we will hold the city’s feet to the fire, but at the same time we will be providing and lending our expertise.”
IntegrAssure released a 45-day interim report on April 1 with updates on what the monitor has done so far, including building a monitor website, holding stakeholder meetings, conducting ride alongs and observations and creating a methodology to assess Aurora’s compliance with the consent decree.
Tuesday’s town hall was an effort to involve community voices in the monitor, Schlanger explained, and is the first of multiple town halls that the monitor plans to hold in conjunction with the release of periodic reports on Aurora’s compliance with the consent decree. On top of feedback during town halls, the monitor plans to incorporate feedback about consent decree reform efforts from the newly created Community Advisory Council made up of Aurora citizens. The council is currently recruiting interested Aurora citizens to serve on the CAC.
Schlanger said that since IntegrAssure was selected, the Aurora Police Department, Aurora Fire and Rescue and city civil service commission has cooperated fully.
Schlanger added that the monitor expects continued cooperation by Aurora Police Department after former police Chief Vanessa Wilson, who led the department during Black Lives Matter protests and litigation over McClain’s death, was fired on April 6. City officials said Wilson was fired for not managing the department or building morale effectively. Daniel Oates, who led APD from 2005 to 2014, was appointed interim police chief on April 20. “And while we know there are changes coming to the leadership of the police department, we fully expect — in fact, have been assured — that that degree of cooperation will continue,” said Schlanger.
Aurora citizens were invited to ask questions and voice concerns during the two-hour town hall. The comments reflected frustration by community members over the progress APD has made in the years since McClain’s death, frustration over personal experiences with the department, frustration over the turmoil around the firing of Wilson and desires for more internal reforms.
Multiple citizens expressed concerns that the consent decree doesn’t address behavioral health needs of officers, which can then impact how they interact with citizens. Representatives from APD explained that the department has resources to provide mental health services to officers, but some citizens were concerned that the department doesn’t require periodic treatment for continued employment or promotions.
Others shared personal negative experiences with APD, with one resident saying he no longer invites his grandchildren to his home after police failed to respond to his calls over safety concerns and one resident saying calls to city officials about the forceful arrest of a friend have fallen on deaf ears.
Some expressed doubt about whether the consent decree and the monitor would create lasting and impacting change within the APD.
While the role that IntegrAssure will play in the consent decree is still in its early stages, Tuesday’s town hall showed that the Aurora community is still impacted and vocal about police reform.