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Aurora interim police chief says 'things are improving' after extended period of turmoil

After the former chief was fired in May, Dan Oates returned to the department he led for eight years a decade ago.

AURORA, Colo — Three months after returning to the department he led for eight years a decade ago, Aurora interim police chief Dan Oates said no news has been good news this summer for his beleaguered department.

"I think we're on our way. I'm not aware of any controversies in the last few months. That's a good sign," Oates said.

Oates came back to the Aurora Police Department in May after the very-public firing of now-former chief Vanessa Wilson.

"It's really, really traumatic for a police department to lose their police chief under the circumstances that Chief Wilson left," Oates said.

Before Wilson was fired, the department was already reeling from several high-profile cases of alleged excessive force, most notably the death of Elijah McClain, which led to an agreement, or consent decree, that requires major reforms to the department's practices and policies.

"Nobody in this organization is complaining about the consent decree. They see it as a way to get us back to respectability, if we follow that process," Oates said.

Oates said the path back to respectability will also include greater attention to detail, something he said he has emphasized since he came back. 

He has also made plans for comprehensive de-escalation training for the entire department, developed a new community relations initiative and hired more civilians in the department to get more cops on the street amid a significant uptick in violent crime and a shortage of cops.

"People are still distraught about what the organization has been through and the hit to our reputation over the last couple of years, but I do detect a sense that things are improving," Oates said.

According to Oates, what the department really needs right now -- perhaps more than anything else -- is a full-time chief.

He said the hiring process is moving along well and the hope is to have someone in place by the middle of November.

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