AURORA, Colo. — Aurora will spend roughly two years developing new procedures and policies at its police and fire departments and then operate with oversight for three years to make sure those policies are followed and fully implemented, according to an agreement announced Tuesday aimed at addressing issues identified in a September report.
That is part of the Consent Decree Agreement the City of Aurora and Colorado Attorney General (AG) reached as part of a recommendation from a scathing September report that examined the practices of the agencies.
"We're worked hand-in-hand with them because we're not going to shy away from reform," said Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson.
It was the result of a 14-month investigation that was prompted by several high-profile cases including the 2019 death of 23-year-old Elijah McClain who was confronted by police as he walked along an Aurora street, taken to the ground and handcuffed. He later died.
In the same month the report was released, a 32-count indictment was handed down against two current and one former Aurora police officers in connection with McClain’s death. Two Aurora Fire Rescue (AFR) paramedics were also indicted.
The agreement outlines specific commitments that Aurora, including the Aurora Police Department (APD), the AFR, and the Aurora Civil Service Commission, will take to address issues found in the report.
It concluded APD officers routinely engage in racially biased policing – treating Blacks and other ethnic minorities differently than whites – and repeatedly use “unlawful and unconstitutional” excessive force.
"A lot of things have come to light – a lot of things that we're not proud of. A lot of things that I had to deal with, either terminations or arresting some of our own," said Wilson. "But I also think you miss the boat when you don't talk about the good things happening in this city."
Investigators conducted 220 hours of ride alongs, analyzed more than 3 million records, attended nine months of weekly force review board meetings where body camera video is reviewed, and read nearly 3,000 reports from the past five years relating to the use of force.
The investigation also found that AFR medics regularly break the law by administering the anesthetic ketamine when they shouldn’t. Its use has since been banned.
Watch the full announcement about the agreement below:
As a result, Aurora will spend two years working with an Independent Consent Decree Monitor to develop new policies to combat the numerous issues identified in the report. Any new policies must be reviewed by the monitor before being implemented.
Addressing racial bias in policing
The agreement calls for “improved policies and training” related to officer stops, arrests, and uses of force to provide “concrete guidance.” It also called for the development of strategies to combat bias.
To help with the goal APD must regularly provide information about the following:
- Records of police interactions
- Documentation and tracking of use-of-force incidents
Use of Force
The city is required to improve policies and training to better equip officers to handle challenging situations to reduce the use of force without compromising officer safety.
In order to do that the department must “create a culture of enforcement that prioritizes de-escalation” and improve accountability measures when force is used even in instances where it was determined to be legally justified.
According to the agreement, the city is already working with a team from the Crime and Justice Institute in Boston to review and improve the use of force policies.
They’re specifically looking at potential issues with the following policies:
- Use of Physical and Deadly Force
- Reporting and Investigating the Use of Tools, Weapons and Physical Force
- Dealing with Persons with Mental Health Disorders
- Coordination with Aurora Fire Rescue and Emergency Medical Services
Creation of New Policies
Aurora Police will create a new policy that provides specific guidance on legal requirements for the different types of stops that police officers make, including for “contacts,” “encounters,” “temporary detentions,” and “arrests.” They must also create a new policy for implementing the data collection requirements under Colorado law.
Use of Ketamine and other chemical sedatives
Current policy forbids the use of ketamine in the field by AFR members and if the city wanted to allow it that would first need to be reviewed as long as the decree remains in effect.
It was actually removed from use within AFR in September 2020, according to AFR Chief Fernando Gray, who said they have no plans to reintroduce it.
"We've actually made a myriad of enhancements to include making sure we have an enhanced RMS or records management system," Gray said. "Making sure not only that we have the methodology to make sure we're administering the medication properly but also supporting that with training."
For other chemical sedatives used as a chemical restraint, AFR must ensure that policies and procedures reflect strict compliance with state law and any waiver requirements, and closely review use of these sedatives to confirm policy compliance.
The consent decree monitor will also periodically review their usage.
Under the agreement, AFR must ensure that APD employees “do not recommend, suggest, or otherwise encourage the use of any chemical restraint" and that its use in the field will be a decision made only by qualified members of AFR and in compliance with medical protocols.
AFR must also develop a process to periodically review its use of chemical sedation in the field to determine what improvements should be made to policy or training.
Recruitment, hiring and promotion
The city must make changes to its hiring and recruitment processes to create a more diverse and qualified workforce for both APD and AFR, under the agreement.
Until now, the Civil Service Commission handled the entire process of hiring entry-level police officers and firefighters.
That meant new civil service employees and their respective departments had no contact prior to the new hires being appointed and assigned to the training academy.
The process will be reworked so that APD and AFR will assume a much more active role in the hiring of candidates from the eligibility lists prepared by the Commission and will have the final say on which candidates are hired.
The city is also required to select an outside expert with expertise in best practices for recruiting and hiring a qualified and diverse public safety workforce.
The City of Aurora is responsible for costs related to the hiring of the consent decree monitor, which could cost between $200,000 and $250,000 per year, according to the city manager.
The deadline to apply for the consent decree monitor position is Nov. 19 and once all applications are in the city and AG will work together to fill the role. According to the city manager, the position could be filled by one person or a team of people.
Aurora City Council must sign approve the consent decree and members have already received a copy of it to review ahead of Monday's meeting. Once that happens the agreement will be submitted to the court system for a judge to sign off.
Read the full agreement below:
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