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Former Aurora Police chief back on the job on an interim basis

'I grieve for this department and what it's been through,' Interim Police Chief Dan Oates said.

AURORA, Colo. — Longtime Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates is back on the job. Last month, Oates agreed to return to the department on an interim basis as the city looks for a full-time chief to replace former Chief Vanessa Wilson.

It's like deja vu all over again, to borrow from Yogi Berra, a legend of Dan Oates' favorite baseball team, the New York Yankees.

"It's exciting, it's fun – I have wonderful memories here," Oates said.

Eight years after Oates left the Aurora Police Department (APD), he's back on an interim basis, with the same title, in the same office, and wearing the same uniform. Though, Oates said the man in the uniform is "a little older and grayer."

But all is not the same at Aurora Police. Oates is well aware that much has changed since he left in 2014. 

Over the past few years, the department's reputation has suffered significantly as a result of several high-profile cases of alleged police misconduct, most notably the death of Elijah McClain in 2019.

"Just an awful, awful, awful tragedy. I can't imagine losing a child like that," Oates said. "This organization needs to do everything it can to avoid that ever happening again."

The tumultuous and very public firing of Chief Vanessa Wilson only added to the recent turmoil at APD. Oates said he mentored Wilson during his first stint with APD.

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"Any departure of any police chief under less than ideal circumstances creates a trauma within the organization," Oates said.

According to Oates, helping the department heal from that trauma and improving morale are two of his top priorities, as well as reducing crime and strengthening the relationship with the community.

"This is a great department with great cops. We've got a lot of work to do to convince the community of that because of the recent hits on our reputation," Oates said. "I grieve for this department and what it's been through. One of the reasons I took this job is to see what I can do to sort of climb out of that difficult time to a place where we're being as high-performing an agency as we can."

Oates added that he already sees a need for organizational change at APD, and he expects to start making some of those changes in about a month. He did not say what those changes might be.

His contract as interim chief is for six months with an option to extend temporarily. He insists he does not want the job full-time.

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