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Aurora Police chief finalists face questions from community during virtual town hall

The city said the city manager will make a final recommendation in July. City council would then have to vote to confirm the city manager's recommendation.

AURORA, Colo. — The four finalists looking to take over as chief of the Aurora Police Department (APD) took part in a virtual town hall Tuesday where they answered community questions.

Last week, APD announced its finalists for the post. They are:

  • Marcus Dudley Jr., a commander with Aurora Police.
  • Alexander Jones, a colonel and bureau chief with the Baltimore County Police Department.
  • Avery Moore, assistant police chief with the Dallas Police Department.
  • Vanessa Wilson, the current interim chief for Aurora Police.

RELATED: Aurora narrows police chief search down to 4

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Regan Williams, senior vice president and recruiter at Bob Murray & Associates, moderated the event. He said more than 800 questions were submitted by the community ahead of the event. Questions addressed things like budget reductions, independent review boards, plans for mental health training and ideas to reduce crime. 

Williams said many of the 800 questions submitted related to the Elijah McClain case. McClain was taken off life support on Aug. 30, 2019 – about a week after the 23-year-old went into cardiac arrest following a struggle with Aurora officers, who contacted him after receiving a call of a suspicious person in the area.

RELATED: Aurora still working to form new independent review of Elijah McClain's death

The nationwide search for a new police chief began in January 2020 after the deputy chief, Nick Metz,  who was supposed to take over the top job withdrew his name and announced plans to retire instead. Vanessa Wilson, current candidate for the job, was named interim police chief in December. 

Williams said stakeholder meetings and a community survey identified trust issues with the department and many wanted a chief who would build a relationship with the communty.

An online survey is available at this link for residents to provide feedback. The survey will be up for one week after the town hall.

The city said the city manager will make a final recommendation in July. City council would then have to vote to confirm the city manager's recommendation.

RELATED: Aurora Police Chief Nick Metz retiring after 36 years in law enforcement

At the time of Metz's retirement, the department had come under scrutiny over the case of Officer Nate Meier, who admitted to consuming alcohol during a shift and was later found passed out behind the wheel of his patrol car in March 2019.

Meier was demoted but was not fired. It was a decision that Metz defended.

RELATED: Aurora police chief defends decision not to fire officer found drunk in running patrol car

Town hall answers

>> Watch the full town hall below

All four candidates said they supported the recent policy changes at the department which include things like verbal warnings before firing weapons and a ban on a controversial type of control hold. Wilson, who put the directives in place, said the department was already trained in many of those things but she wanted it in formal writing. Moore said while he supported the changes, he was "shocked" some of these things were not already mandated. 

RELATED: Aurora announces police policy changes, provides new details on independent investigation into death of Elijah McClain

All four candidates also disagreed with getting rid of any military-type weapons or machines citing safety for officers. Jones said while officers are out in the community, they should consider not wearing intimidating military-type clothing but military-type vehicles are necessary for barricade situations. Dudley said the agency could work to "desensitize" people to military-type weapons and vehicles by bringing them to events so people don’t think they are used for intimidation. Wilson added APD's armored vehicle was used to rescue people stranded on highways during Colorado's bomb cyclone. 

The candidates all recognized racism and sexism is a problem in law enforcement. Wilson spoke about hitting a glass ceiling and not expecting to be named interim chief. She said moving forward, she hopes the community is ready for more broken ceilings. She added that implicit bias needs to be addressed and when someone calls in a suspicious person, it should never be for the color of someone's skin. Dudley said while there is bias in all walks of life that we have to work to minimize, it can't just be done within the department, the community needs to work at it, too. 

When asked about budget cuts, Moore said we're living in a time of police reform and he doesn't believe officers are qualified to address mental health calls or medical calls. He added that homelessness is not a crime and if having other professionals answer those calls is called defunding the police, he thinks officers would be OK with that. 

Jones, when asked about making difficult decisions said the decisions law enforcement officials make on a daily basis should not be that difficult "if we have a moral compass guiding us."

The candidates all agreed enhanced technology is critical for APD as well as transparency and building relationships with the community in Aurora. 

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