The City of Aurora and the Colorado Attorney General have reached a final agreement in principle on the terms of a consent decree to resolve issues identified in a September patterns and practices report about the Aurora Police Department and Aurora Fire Rescue. The city announced the agreement in a press release on Nov. 16.
“Systemic change is already underway in Aurora. We have a deep commitment to a ‘New Way’ of providing public safety services and we will not waver from that,” Aurora City Manager Jim Twombly said in the Nov. 16 release. “I thank Attorney General Weiser and his staff for the ongoing collaboration as we all share the same goals. Together, we wrote the consent decree to keep Aurora on the path forward, to support the police officers and firefighters who embrace this work, serve the community and protect our city, and to further the efforts the city began more than a year ago.”
The consent decree builds on Aurora’s ongoing work to improve use-of-force policies and training, to create specific guidance on critical decision-making and the exercise of discretion when engaging with community members to address perceived or actual bias in policing, to develop a new data system to document police interactions with members of the community and to improve the hiring of police officers and firefighters to ensure the public safety workforce better reflects Aurora’s rich culture and diversity. It also addresses the prior use of ketamine and other sedatives by Aurora Fire Rescue as chemical restraints.
Each section of the consent decree provides the objectives to be addressed, the additional policies and training needed and the mechanisms to measure and report on progress. The city announced it will work with a consent decree monitor and other outside experts in each area to develop the additional policies and training protocols and to make sure each established deadline is met. The consent decree is expected to last five years but may be completed sooner if the city reaches substantial compliance with the requirements within a shorter period.
Earlier this month, the city disseminated a request for proposals to initiate a hiring process for the consent decree monitor with the intention of filling the role by Dec. 31. The monitor will not be a city employee but will be funded by the city as a contracted position. The city announced on Nov. 16 that a thorough selection process will be conducted by the city and the AG’s Office.
The monitor will provide regular public updates to the court on progress made on the consent decree alone. The role will be separate from the independent police monitor division to oversee discipline and accountability at the Aurora Police Department. The division will be funded in 2022 for three positions: the monitor, an investigator and an administrator. The detailed scope and duties of the independent police monitor division are not yet fully defined, but city leaders are connecting with other cities to research their models and are gathering information from the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement. City leaders will then work with the Aurora City Attorney’s Office to prepare a draft ordinance to codify the division and ensure that it aligns with the Aurora City Charter, according to the release. The draft ordinance will go to the Public Safety Committee and city council for consideration.
“The past couple of years have been a turbulent period for the Aurora Police Department; however, the brave members of this agency continue to proudly pin on their badges every day and serve our community with duty, honor, integrity and accountability,” Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson said in the Nov. 16 release. “We are committed to embracing organizational change and have already taken essential steps to improve public safety and community relations.”
“Prior to this process, Aurora Fire Rescue made many changes to address concerns in the report and enhance the level of patient care provided to our customers. We are committed to working cooperatively so that we remain fully compliant with the expectations in the agreement,” said Fernando Gray, Aurora fire rescue chief, in the press release from the city. “Our mission remains focused on a culture of continuous improvement to ensure the best outcomes for our members and for those we serve.”
The consent decree also requires an overhaul of the Aurora Civil Service Commission’s rules and procedures to give Aurora Police and Aurora Fire Rescue a say in the hiring decision of entry-level police officers and firefighters, to review the promotional process, to reduce the time disciplinary cases take from filing to resolution and to change the way the cases are reviewed and to establish requirements that make the CSC’s business as accessible and transparent to the public as possible. The consent decree monitor will review all the required CSC changes and any changes must align with the city charter, according to the release.
The consent decree will go to the Aurora City Council for formal approval on Nov. 22. Once approved, the AG’s Office will file it and other documents in Arapahoe County District Court and request the district court judge to sign the stipulated consent decree as an order of the court.
Aurora launched the five-point “New Way” plan in October 2020 to guide meaningful reform in operations, accountability, engagement, service and leadership at APD and to seek complementary changes in other departments as reforms in public safety are multidimensional. It incorporates recommendations made by the Community Policing Task Force, the independent firm 21CP Solutions the city hired to assess APD and the independent review panel led by Jonathan Smith that investigated the Elijah McClain case. The city provides regular updates on the “New Way” progress webpage.
“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. “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.”