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Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson fired 'effective immediately'

Division Chief Chris Juul will temporarily oversee operations at APD, the city said.

AURORA, Colo. — Aurora Police Department (APD) Chief Vanessa Wilson has been fired, the city confirmed on Wednesday.

City Manager Jim Twombly said during a news conference Wednesday that the decision to fire Wilson was based on interviews and evaluations of performance.

"It is my responsibility to continually evaluate the operations of the city, the management, and also key personnel," Twombly said. "I do that, though, looking at facts, also discussing my evaluation of what is in the best interest of the city."

The decision, according to the city, was a "recognition that areas of the department need refocused attention."

Twombly said there were two themes that popped up that were concerning: overall management and overall leadership.

The decision to fire Wilson was one that was made after a lot of thought and discussions with officers in the department, the city manager said.

Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman also made remarks at the news conference.

"This is a decision of the city manager, but I support that decision," Coffman said as he took the podium.

"I want to say thank you to Vanessa Wilson for her years of dedicated service to this department," he added.

Coffman said he supported Wilson becoming police chief, stating she was the "right person at the right time" for the City of Aurora.

He said he had concerns about Wilson's leadership as crime became an increasing issue for the city.

"My concerns never rose to a level of saying we ought to replace the police chief," Coffman said.

He cited the recent report about the backlog of cases, stating that it compromised public safety.

“It is clear that Chief Wilson has prioritized community involvement; however, the police chief also needs to effectively manage the operations of the department, effectively engage with staff, build morale, and validate employee feedback," Twombly said. "To provide the level of public safety that our community deserves, a change in leadership must occur."

Wilson's firing comes as the department is under a consent decree, a legally binding agreement that requires the department to make changes when it comes to their use of force, Fourth Amendment stops and biased policing. 

The oversight came after the attorney general found APD engaged in excessive force practices and and racially biased policing. 

The newly hired independent consent decree monitor said while Wilson was cooperative, he doesn't believe a leadership change will disrupt the progress.

“I’ve absolutely seen other departments go through this," said Jeff Schlager with IntegrAssure. "The departure of a chief is not an unusual occurrence and the consent decrees in which I have been the monitor for in which chiefs have departed have been extremely successful not withstanding that departure."

Clearly, though, the decision to fire Wilson was not universally well-received.  

Aurora City Councilwoman Alison Coombs said it was a bad decision to let Wilson go, that Wilson was an effective chief in the limited time she served.

"I do not support the chief being fired," Coombs said. "I think there are a lot of things that she had time to do, and did, as chief.  And some of the issues that have recently been raised, she wasn't given the resources and the time to implement before she was then fired."

Sheneen McClain, Elijah McClain's mother, said she was also against Wilson's firing and said she believes it means the city is not serious about police reform.

RELATED: Mother of Elijah McClain speaks out against firing of Aurora Police chief

Twombly held a briefing about the new developments at 11 a.m. Wednesday.

Watch a replay below:

Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman released a statement following Wilson's firing that reads: 

"I fully support the decision by City Manager Jim Twombly to terminate Police Chief Vanessa Wilson," Coffman said in a statement released on his Twitter account. "While I deeply appreciate the former police chief's leadership during a very difficult chapter in the history of our city as well as her leadership in reforming the department, I do not believe that she has demonstrated the urgency necessary to lead the department at a time when crime has dramatically risen in our city. New leadership is needed that will not only continue moving the department forward with the reforms initiated by former Chief Wilson, but leadership that will be focused on making the department more effective in reducing the crime rate in our city."

Effective immediately, Division Chief Chris Juul will temporarily oversee operations at APD, the city said. The city management team will work to name an interim chief in the near future and also will begin a nationwide search for a permanent chief.

Rumors had been swirling for several weeks about her possible departure. Reports had surfaced saying that Wilson planned to resign, which her attorney disputed.

Her attorney did acknowledge that Twombly suggested a strategy for her resignation.

Under the Aurora City Charter, it is the city manager’s duty to appoint a police chief with the approval of a majority of the city council. The change in leadership will not have an impact on the city’s commitment to fulfill the terms of the consent decree it entered with the Colorado attorney general in late 2021. The city had already begun implementing changes as part of its ongoing "New Way" plan, launched in 2020.

"I'm thankful for the opportunity to serve the people of Aurora. I am proud of its police officers and what we've accomplished together," Wilson said in a statement. "I look forward to continue working in law enforcement to ensure transparency, reform, and accountability. We must all remain dedicated to practices that ensure the safety and well-being of our communities and the fair treatment of all citizens."

Wilson became interim police chief at the beginning of 2020, after 23 years with APD amid controversy, including the death of Elijah McClain, a photo scandal related to his death and criticism over the department's response to protests related to his death.

She was appointed to the full-time position in August 2020 in a 10-1 vote by the Aurora City Council.

RELATED: Consultant finds huge case backlog amid controversy over Aurora Police chief

RELATED: Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson not resigning despite suggestion from city manager, attorney says

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